US gun control leaders try -- again -- to hit target

Another bloodbath by a heavily armed maniac, another attempt by America's seemingly powerless gun control advocates to restrict access to military style arsenals.

A gun shop in the US
A gun shop in the US

When Senator Frank Lautenberg stood touting his new proposals Monday on the steps of New York City Hall, the frustration was palpable.

"Words alone don't show that we are resolved to prevent this from happening again," the veteran politician told a news conference held under a sweltering sun.

"This" was the massacre in a Colorado cinema that left 12 dead and 58 wounded when the suspect, 24-year-old James Holmes, allegedly sprayed the trapped moviegoers with automatic gunfire.

Lautenberg and his fellow Democrat Representative Carolyn McCarthy were announcing a bill that would put the brakes on the current market allowing Holmes to buy more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition online and without having even to reveal his identity.

"You don't have to be a scientist to know how wrong this is," Lautenberg said, referring to Holmes' deadly shopping spree.

Under the proposed law, online sales of ammunition would end, only licensed dealers would be allowed to sell and they'd be required to report the sale of more than 1,000 rounds to anyone other than another license holder.

McCarthy, whose husband was killed in a 1993 shooting massacre on Long Island, said the bill "pulls ammunition sales out of the shadows and into the light, where criminals can't hide and responsible dealers can act as a line of defense against the planning and stockpiling of a potential mass killer."

Their press conference was on friendly territory: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of the country's most prominent advocates of gun control and his city has among the most restrictive ownership laws.

Nevertheless, gun crime remains common in New York, with killings or woundings a daily occurrence. Nationwide, an average of 34 people are killed in gunfire each day.

Despite widespread outrage, legislation like that proposed Monday usually sinks without trace. Lautenberg and McCarthy themselves sponsored a bill 18 months ago to ban high-capacity ammunition clips for automatic weapons and it has gone nowhere.

Even a dedicated campaigner like Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, concedes that love of firearms runs deep in the United States.

"Much of the country is rural. There is a very strong tradition of gun ownership because of hunting, for self-defense," he said.

"And it's also true that because the United States won its freedom in revolution, something still remains in our culture that really values that freedom and the ability not just to protect yourself but to have arms in case you need to rise up against the government."

But that culture is given a fiercely political edge by the National Rifle Association, a pro-guns advocacy group with a powerful election campaign machine and lavish funding.

Responding to the latest attempts to curb weapons sales, the NRA was unequivocal.

"This group of reliably anti-gun Senators is hoping to take advantage of the environment to advance their political agenda," the NRA said on its website.

"The magazine ban was a failed idea from the (Bill) Clinton era, and will have no impact on criminal misuse of firearms, now, or in the future.... We will work with our allies to defeat this anti-freedom proposal, and will track any vote on the amendment if it is allowed under Senate rules."

In the view of the NRA, even the slightest restriction on the availability of powerful firearms is an attack on the constitution's second amendment, which defends the right to bear arms.

Nonsense, says Glaze.

"The Supreme Court has already said that that's not going to happen and the truth is a large majority in this country don't want a ban on firearms," he said.

"What a large majority wants is reasonable regulations and that's all our 700 mayors are calling for. But the NRA is not playing straight with the American people and the reason is, this is how they raise money."

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