Since James Holmes fired shots into a movie theater in Aurora, killing twelve people, politicians across the country have launched heated debates about gun control. Now, Representative Diana DeGette has entered the fray with proposed legislation that she says could help prevent this kind of tragedy in the future.
The bill would limit people's ability to anonymously purchase unlimited quantities of ammunition over the Internet, and would also require that ammunition dealers report bulk sales to law enforcement.
This legislation, which DeGette introduced with Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), is one of the first direct policy initiatives after the Aurora shooting to come from an elected official in Colorado -- where it can be particularly challenging for politicians to discuss gun control policy in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
On the national stage, President Barack Obama has said that military weapons don't belong in the hands of citizens, but he declined to call for specific policy changes -- and even some of his local supporters think he could be a bit more assertive. (Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he does not support any changes to gun control policy).
DeGette's legislation was officially introduced last Tuesday, a little less than two weeks after the shooting at the movie theater. Since then, Wade Michael Page, a man with Colorado ties, killed six people at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin.
This measure, called the Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act, is a direct response to the fact that Holmes was able to purchase 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet before he shot seventy people at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.
"After the tragic events in Aurora, it became clear that this was another loophole we needed to work on closing," says Lisa Cohen, DeGette's chief of staff. "There's an epidemic of gun violence in our country. As a policymaker, the congresswoman feels very strongly that this needs to be discussed."
This bill, which is now in the hands of the House's judiciary committee and won't be discussed again until September, would require anyone selling ammunition to be a licensed dealer. It would also mandate that ammunition buyers who are not licensed dealers present photo identification at the time of purchase, which DeGette's office says would effectively ban the online or mail order purchase of ammo by regular civilians.
Additionally, the legislation calls for dealers to maintain records of ammunition sales and to report the sale of more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition to an unlicensed person within any five consecutive business days.
Some say it's still too soon to talk policy. Shortly after the attack, Governor John Hickenlooper said those conversations would eventually happen, but in his view, Holmes was so deranged that stricter policies wouldn't have stopped him.
In response to these kinds of comments, Cohen says: "Clearly a determined individual is going to find a way to wreak havoc. But we have an obligation to do whatever we can to minimize their ability to do so, and tightening up sales of ammunition over the Internet.... Someone like the alleged shooter would not be able to amass 6,000 rounds of ammo."
Page down to read more about the Internet ammunition bill. A few days after the Aurora shooting, DeGette -- who represents and Denver and has pushed gun control measures since she first arrived in Congress sixteen years ago -- called on Congress to pass a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, noting that the gunman entered the theater with multiple weapons, including a semiautomatic weapon and a 100-round magazine.
Her office intentionally waited a few days to make these statements, Cohen says.
"The attention has to be on victims and support for the community," she says. "That's of the utmost importance."
Cohen says she is hopeful that Congress could ultimately agree on some of these measures. "There's definitely support building for common-sense gun measures," she says, adding, in reference to the Wisconsin shooting, "The fact that we are looking at more deaths over the weekend will hopefully encourage the committee to move [forward]."
Asked about Hickenlooper's stance on gun control, Cohen says, "We certainly hope that the governor will be a partner in our efforts."
And what about Obama?
"We intend to engage the administration in this conversation as well. The President can be a powerful voice in helping move legislation," she says, adding that she doesn't want to speculate on whether the bill will ultimately get the Obama's support.
Interestingly, Representative Ed Perlmutter, one of the first local elected officials to speak out about gun control after the theater shooting, is not officially supporting DeGette's effort yet.
Perlmutter immediately called for a reinstatement of the assaults weapon ban, but his office tells us he is now looking into DeGette's proposal.
A spokesman wrote in an e-mail yesterday: "Rep. Perlmutter wants to mitigate the problem of anonymously purchasing unlimited ammunition over the internet. He is evaluating whether the Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act is the best way to achieve that goal."
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