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Gun policy: On day one, Diana DeGette introduces high-capacity magazine ban

In the final weeks of 2012, Congresswoman Diana DeGette, who represents Denver, pushed for an immediate vote on a measure to ban high-capacity assault magazines. The bill, she said, would be a sign of concrete action after twenty children were slaughtered in Connecticut. But the chance for a vote never came. And today, the first day of the new session, DeGette is introducing it again -- and her staff says this time the measure could get legitimate bipartisan support.

"We are going to make a concerted effort to push for bipartisan support and we've had some definite expressions of interest," says Lisa Cohen, chief of staff for DeGette. "The session is just starting today...but we are going to go full steam ahead to get co-sponsorship."

The bill is one of many legislative ideas that has been discussed in the final month of the 112th Congress, which included a renewed gun control debate after the Newtown, Connecticut shooting at an elementary school.

Diana DeGette calling for a vote on the ban last month.
Diana DeGette calling for a vote on the ban last month.
CSPAN

DeGette's proposal, introduced alongside Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York, would put in effect a ban on high-capacity assault magazines, which have been at the center of many recent mass shootings. DeGette and supporters of the measure say that this kind of ammunition allows shooters to do incredible damage in a short amount of time, arguing that this would help reduce the risk of mass casualties.

The formal name of the bill is the High Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act and what it would do is ban the sale or transfer of ammunition magazines holding more than ten rounds. Today, in a news release announcing that the legislation has been introduced again, DeGette's office notes that magazines are currently available in capacities of up to one hundred and more.

This legislation had 138 co-sponsors in the House in the last Congress and 111 House members signed on after the shooting in Tuscon, Arizona. After the Aurora theater shooting this past summer, two more signed on. And then in December, 25 more added their support after the Newtown shooting.

This kind of momentum will hopefully grow with the re-introduced legislation, says Cohen.

"Unfortunately, because of recent events...there's more attention on this issue," she says. "And certainly all the polling...indicates broad support."

Continue for more on the legislation.

 

There are arguments now that given the incredibly horrific nature of an elementary school shooting where so many young children died, these kinds of measures may, for the first time, get backing from Republicans.

A vigil for the Aurora theater shooting on July 20.
A vigil for the Aurora theater shooting on July 20.
Sam Levin

DeGette, in her calls for stricter gun policies, has pointed out how close to home it is for her given that her district includes Columbine High School and is adjacent to Aurora.

"Since she was in the Colorado legislature...[she has been] very passionate about changing our gun laws to save lives," says Cohen.

Here's DeGette's official statement on the bill:

Since I came to Congress, I have been working to protect our children and our families from senseless gun violence. Recent tragedies have only heightened the need, and that is why Rep. McCarthy and I are reintroducing our bill to ban high-capacity assault magazines. While there is no single answer to stopping these massacres, this bill is a step that will go a long way toward making our country safe.

And here's the full news release:

WASHINGTON, DC -- Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO1) and Carolyn McCarthy (NY-4) today introduced legislation today to ban the high-capacity assault magazines that have facilitated high numbers of casualties in almost every recent mass shooting in American history.

"These assault magazines help put the 'mass' in 'mass shooting' and anything we can do to stop their proliferation will save lives in America," Rep. McCarthy said. "These devices are used to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time possible and we owe it to innocent Americans everywhere to keep them out of the hands of dangerous people. We don't even allow hunters to use them - something's deeply wrong if we're protecting game more than we're protecting innocent human beings."

"Since I came to Congress, I have been working to protect our children and our families from senseless gun violence," Rep. DeGette said. "Recent tragedies have only heightened the need, and that is why Rep. McCarthy and I are reintroducing our bill to ban high-capacity assault magazines. While there is no single answer to stopping these massacres, this bill is a step that will go a long way toward making our country safe."

The High Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act, as the bill is formally known, bans the sale or transfer of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Such a standard was federal law between 1994 and 2004, when the assault weapons ban was in effect, and it is state law in many parts of the United States. Magazines are available today in capacities of up to 100 and even more.

Law enforcement officials and analysts have cited the direct role that magazine capacity plays in ensuring the high numbers of casualties in mass shootings. Often, as in the cases of Tucson, Arizona and the Long Island Railroad, the carnage ends when the shooters run out of bullets and stop to reload, at which point they are stopped by bystanders.

Unfortunately, the devices are still easily available to the public and have been used in every mass shooting in recent history, such as: Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut; a shopping mall in Oregon; a temple in Wisconsin; a movie theater in Colorado; a Congressional event in Arizona; at schools like Columbine High School and Virginia Tech University; at a law office in California; and on a commuter rail car in New York. They were even acquired from the United States by mail order and used in the Norway shooting of 2011, where 69 people were shot to death.

In many cases, mass shooters intending to act don't have access to a black market, but acquire whatever they can easily and legally, making a ban on high-capacity magazines a major obstacle for future mass murderers to carry out their plans.

The legislation had 138 House co-sponsors in the 112th Congress, under the number H.R. 308. One hundred and eleven House members signed on after its introduction after the shooting in Tucson, Arizona; two more signed on after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado; then 25 more signed on after last month's shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Rep. McCarthy, a lifelong nurse, strode into a life of activism to reduce gun violence after her husband was murdered and son critically wounded in the 1993 mass shooting on the Long Island Railroad in New York. Her activism led her to Washington first to lobby members of Congress as an advocate for victims, and then as a member herself after running against her own congressman who voted against the assault weapons ban.

Rep. DeGette has been an outspoken supporter of measures to reduce gun violence and played a critical role in rounding up support for new cosponsors for the ban on high-capacity magazines after the most recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Her district includes Columbine High School and is adjacent to that which includes Aurora, Colorado. She is now, with Rep. McCarthy, the original co-sponsor of the legislation, which will receive a bill number shortly.

The bill to ban high-capacity magazines was carried in the Senate in the 112th Congress by Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. Sen. Lautenberg has helped lead the fight for safer gun policy for much of his decades-long career, writing the law to keep guns out of the hands of domestic violence offenders and co-sponsoring the original Brady Law to establish background checks for handgun purchases, among other efforts.

More from our Politics archive: "Death penalty: Representative Claire Levy says she is confident a repeal could pass"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


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