Casey, others alter stance on gun control

A patron at a gun show examines an assault rifle with a 16-round high capacity magazine. Senator Bob Casey and several other pro-gun lawmakers now say they would support bills banning both. -- AP FILE PHOTO

Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator Bob Casey, a longtime supporter of Second Amendment rights who was highly rated by the National Rifle Association, said last week that he now favors two gun control bills expected to be introduced soon.

Casey, who opposed the ten-year assault weapons ban that was allowed to expire in 2004, said on Wednesday that he was haunted by the murders committed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. He said he would support a ban on assault weapons and another bill banning high capacity magazines.

“If those two bills come before the Senate, I’ll vote for both,” Casey said. “I just believe that in light of what's happened, in light of measures we can take to lessen the chances that will happen [again], that these are two steps we can take.

“I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and believe in the right of citizens to own guns for their own protection as well as for hunting, recreation, and collection. Nonetheless, after reflecting on the power of the weapon and the number of bullets that hit each child in Sandy Hook, the reinstatement of a ban on military-style weapons and high capacity magazines are two common-sense steps that I support. Moving forward, my hope is that Republicans and Democrats will come together and act in response to this great tragedy. I remain optimistic that the sense of urgency we all felt after Sandy Hook will not be diminished by time or any partisan battles.”

Other pro-gun lawmakers who have shifted their position are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). All have recently stated they would support new gun control measures.

Reid stated that his proposal includes language in support of universal background checks – a proposal that has had stiff opposition in the pro-gun camp. Reid said he would stand behind President Barack Obama’s provisions that were called for in his State of the Union Address.

“I will start the process of bringing a bill to reduce gun violence to the Senate floor. This bill will include the provisions on background checks, school safety and gun trafficking reported by the Judiciary Committee,” Reid said in a press release issued on March 21. “I hope negotiations will continue over the upcoming break to reach a bipartisan compromise on background checks, and I am hopeful that they will succeed. If a compromise is reached, I am open to including it in the base bill. But I want to be clear: in order to be effective, any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks. The bill I advance will serve as the basis for opening debate. Once debate begins, I will ensure that a ban on assault weapons, limits to high-capacity magazines, and mental health provisions receive votes, along with other amendments. In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for all of these provisions to receive votes, and I will ensure that they do.”

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013, a bill that would increase the penalties for straw purchasing from five years to up to 25 years in prison. The measure also makes straw purchasing a federal offense. The Gun Trafficking Prevention Act was introduced by Republican Congressman Patrick Meehan on February 5. Supporters of the measure say it addresses the concerns of law enforcement officers, who said the bill would significantly help reduce gun violence and the concerns of law abiding gun owners who don’t want any infringement on their Second Amendment rights.

“As a former federal prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges faced by law enforcement personnel fighting to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” Meehan said during a press conference. “This legislation will give law enforcement critical tools they need to combat gun violence while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.”

Law enforcement authorities say that straw purchasing is a major component driving the excessive gun violence in America’s major cities. In Philadelphia, where over 300 murders were committed last year, close to 90 percent of the homicides were committed by illegally obtained handguns. It is expected that such a law would have a huge impact in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago and Camden, where gun violence has become rampant.

In the State of the City report just released by the Pew Charitable Trust statistics show that in 2012 82 percent of all the homicides committed in Philadelphia were by firearms and four out of five of the victims were African Americans. Law enforcement authorities often state that illegal guns are a major part of the problem.

“Anything that helps reduce straw purchasing will have an impact on gun violence,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “There were 334 homicides committed in this city last year and not one was committed by a legal gun owner. We have to do all we can to stop straw purchasing. Universal background checks will help us along with mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms. Universal background checking would be a valuable tool to help us keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people with a history of domestic violence and mental health problems.”

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