Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee argued during a Tuesday hearing that a balance can be struck between combating gun violence with new laws and protecting Americans’ Second Amendment rights, while Republicans said it would be unwise to enact new laws until the current ones are more vigorously enforced.
The subcommittee hearing on gun violence and the Second Amendment comes roughly two weeks after the committee’s first full hearing on the issue following the shootings at a Connecticut elementary school in December.
“We’ve reached a tipping point. We need to act,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat. “Some say we should just enforce the laws that are on the books. But that’s not enough. There are so many gaps in those laws that we know they’ve created the situation we face today.”
But Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, the ranking member of the subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, said enforcement of current laws is the problem.
“In my view, the divide on this issue is fairly straightforward,” the Republican said. “The focus of law enforcement should be on criminals. And we should be unstinting in protecting communities. Many of the communities that each of you has suffered losses in are communities that, sadly, law enforcement has been failing. And we should be working to fix that problem.”
The shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has prompted President Obama to propose a sweeping package of gun controls, including a ban on so-called assault weapons, high-capacity magazine clips and universal background checks on all gun purchases. Many of the victims’ families will attend Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, assailed a lobbyist’s recent comments to the Wisconsin NRA State Association that any gun-rights agenda would be delayed until the “Connecticut effect” had passed as “callous and offensive.”
A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association said that the lobbyist, Bob Welch, is neither a staff lobbyist nor a contract lobbyist for the NRA and does not speak for the national gun-rights group.
After recent mass shootings at Tucson and Aurora, an initial flurry of attention gradually faded from the public eye, and no real legislation was taken up. Gun-control advocates insist this time will be different.
Still, Republicans, as they did during the first hearing, pointed to a comparatively small percentage of prosecutions compared to the number of potential cases. Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, drew out the statistic from U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy that out of 80,000 failed background checks in 2012, just 44 cases were prosecuted.
“I think we should take our current law and enforce it,” Mr. Graham said.