Deluging the Senate Judiciary Committee with facts and figures that some members clearly did not want to hear, three gun rights advocates and some pro-gun members of the panel hammered proposed bans on so-called “assault weapons” and “high capacity” magazines during a four-hour Wednesday hearing that was loaded with surprises.
The hearing did perhaps signal that the focus may shift from bans to background checks as the ultimate target of congressional action.
Perhaps the biggest surprise came when Gayle Trotter, a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum, told the panel, chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), that “In a violent confrontation, guns reverse the balance of power. An armed woman does not need superior strength.”
She further stunned the audience by opposing a ban on semi-automatic rifles.
“Guns make women safer,” Trotter stated.
Responding to a question from Ranking Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, she said “Young women are speaking out as to why AR-15 weapons are their weapon of choice. The guns are accurate, they have good handling, they’re light, they are easy for women to hold, and most importantly, their appearance; an assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon.”
It was a devastating observation from a woman that drew some giggles from anti-gunners, but it may have struck a nerve with other people.
David Kopel, research director at the Colorado-based Independence Institute told the panel that the semi-auto ban from 1994 through 2004 was a failure. He referred to a Justice Department study conducted under then-Attorney General Janet Reno that concluded the law “had done nothing.”
He also suggested, under questioning from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), that limiting magazine capacity to ten rounds may be unconstitutional. The logic behind that relates to his contention that semi-auto rifles and pistols with larger magazine capacities, which he called standard capacities, are “in common use” today. Under the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Heller case, guns in common use would be protected by the Second Amendment.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association provided what some might consider the “icing on the cake” by lambasting the Obama administration for its failure to prosecute criminals under existing gun laws. He asserted that federal firearms prosecutions have declined 30 percent, which he called “totally unacceptable.”
Adding to that, he said the mental health system is broken, and that privacy laws “needlessly prevent” the inclusion of critical information on dangerously insane people in the National Instant Check System database.
“Law-abiding gun owners,” he emphasized, “will not accept the blame for acts of violent criminals.”
Equally important to their testimony were a series of charts introduced by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as he observed that “Too many times the proposals offered by this Congress restrict the rights of law-abiding individuals.”
“In my judgment,” he said, “the proposed assault weapons ban is a singularly ineffective piece of legislation.”
He backed up that argument with conclusions from the Justice Department that said the Clinton-era ban had failed to reduce the average number of victims per firearms-related murder. He questioned why some members of Congress are “in a rush to reenact a law that, according to the Department of Justice, has done nothing.”
He also wondered about the focus on gun shows when the Justice Department’s own research says that 1.9 percent of guns used in crimes come from gun shows.
While some observers may suggest this was a four-hour exercise in political theater, it did expose the public to arguments from a couple of fresh perspectives.
There were some heated exchanges, too, between Leahy and LaPierre, and between Trotter and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) over the differences in effectiveness between an AR-15 and a Remington shotgun. Leahy finally stepped in and cut off the debate and declined to insert his own observations.
The hearing did lay the groundwork for what promises to be spirited opposition to the Feinstein bill, which does not appear to be getting much traction as a panacea to violent crime.
See more video at The Gun Wire.