Congress plows familiar turf on guns

As he wrapped up a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on guns and gun violence on Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) made clear he expects his panel to move forward in coming weeks on gun legislation – but what will be in that bill isn’t so clear.

“I hope the committee can get together and mark up legislation next month,” Leahy said, “and then take it to the floor.”

As for what might be in that bill, the idea of an assault weapons ban probably has the longest odds – while it still has the support of President Obama, Leahy never mentioned it as the Senate Judiciary Committee grappled with the best answers on gun violence.

Instead, Leahy and other Democrats focused a lot of attention on the idea of universal background checks for all gun sales and limits on the size of ammunition magazines.

Mark Kelly, the husband of ex-Rep. Gabby Giffords, steered away from the “gun show loophole” phrase at one point, instead labeling it the “private sales loophole” when referring to the call to have all gun transactions subject to a background check.

But that background check idea again drew strong opposition from some GOP Senators and the National Rifle Association.

“Let’s be honest,” said NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, “background checks will never be universal, because criminals will never submit to them.”

Still, the background check plan might just make it out of the Judiciary Committee, but its future on the Senate floor is not so clear.

As for the limit on the size of ammunition magazines, several Democrats zeroed in on that, but gun rights advocates wouldn’t budge, arguing magazine limits would harm the right of people to defend themselves.

“Every law-abiding citizen has a moral right to own the best tools of self-defense,” said David Kopel, a professor at Denver University.

At one point, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) brought up the case of an Oklahoma woman, who shot and killed an intruder on New Year’s Eve, saying the gun used in that example of self-defense was not a semi-automatic and did not use a large ammunition magazine.

“So, would it have been unreasonable for her to use a different gun to protect her child?” asked Gayle Trotter of the Independent Women’s Forum, who asserted that women especially need to use the Second Amendment.

“She would clearly have an adequate ability to protect her family, without the use of a 100 round piece of weaponry,” said Whitehouse.

“How can you say that?” Trotter shot back. “You can’t understand; you are not a woman, stuck in her house, having to defend her children.”

For the most part, there were few electric moments in the hearing, but Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) did jab at the NRA’s LaPierre long enough to finally cause some sparks over why Americans needed high powered weapons to defend themselves, as LaPierre said weapons were necessary for “fundamental human survival.”

“The belief of the NRA is the Second Amendment has to give American citizens the firepower to fight back against you, against our government,” Durbin said to the Police Chief of Baltimore County, Maryland who was a sympathetic witness for Democrats.

“I find it to be scary, creepy and simply, just not based on logic,” said Chief James Johnson said of LaPierre’s comments.

“Frankly, I can’t relate to that kind of thinking,” the Chief added.

“I can’t either,” said Durbin.

The truth is, neither side can really relate to what the other wants on guns, and there is precious little – if any – middle ground on this issue.

That raises the question of what, if anything, can make it out of the Senate on guns and gun violence.

The bottom line right now – while there might be some momentum in the Congress on the issue of immigration reform, we’re not seeing the same thing on guns.

But we’ll see what happens in the weeks and months ahead.