A rush for new gun restrictions, but odds appear long

In this court room audio recording from October 2007, Jared Loughner appears before a judge on a drug paraphernalia possession charge.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 11, 2011; 11:05 PM

The road to firearms policy in America is paved in blood.

Every major change in the regulation of U.S. gun ownership was prompted in part by a national gun tragedy, such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or the attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan.

The 1960s killings of Kennedy, his brother Robert and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led to the Gun Control Act of 1968, the cornerstone of gun law in America today.

The 1981 Reagan shooting, which seriously wounded press secretary James Brady, led to a bill in Brady's name requiring background checks before gun purchases - which through last year had prohibited more than 800,000 people from buying firearms.

Saturday's rampage in Tucson, which killed six and wounded 14, has already prompted members of Congress and gun groups to propose a variety of remedies meant to prevent future such shootings.

One congressional proposal would outlaw high-capacity ammunition magazines, such as the the 30-round clip found in Jared Lee Loughner's Glock 19 pistol, the weapon used in the Tucson shooting. The commercial sale of such high-capacity magazines was prohibited under the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

"I don't call it gun control," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). "I call it common-sense gun laws." Another proposal from a group of mayors would add resources to tighten federal background checks.

Political observers are doubtful that there is political support for more gun laws or that the proposals would have made a difference in Arizona.

"This tragedy is not going to have the same kind of impetus for legislation," said Bradley A. Buckles, former director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which enforces federal gun laws. "I don't know what needs to be done. I don't know what you could do. People are going to get guns and shoot people. There are 300 million guns out there. We are close to the end of where we can regulate guns."

Pro-gun majorities in the House and Senate jeopardize any chance for gun legislation this year. On Tuesday, for example, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) did not list a single gun-related bill in a lengthy speech outlining his legislative priorities.

The National Rifle Association declined to comment on proposals. "At this time, anything other than prayers for the victims and their families would be inappropriate, " NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said.

The 1960s gun legislation focused on broad regulatory schemes, such as prohibiting commercial sales to felons, illegal residents, drug abusers and anyone who, like Lee Harvey Oswald, had been dishonorably discharged or renounced his citizenship.

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