Police chief James Johnson speaks to the press. Police groups held a news… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — Despite the tough political climate for federal gun control legislation, a coalition of law enforcement groups on Thursday called for background checks on all gun buyers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines after the Colorado shooting rampage.
“After looking at what happened in Aurora, Colo., who could be in favor of these high-capacity magazines?” asked Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation and chairman of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence.
They issued their plea as the House of Representatives condemned the mass shooting and expressed condolences to the families and friends of the 12 people killed and wishes for the recovery of the 58 injured. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, visiting Aurora on Thursday, called for renewal of the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.
“We cannot be ... hiding behind the 2nd Amendment to justify weapons that the writers of the Constitution never imagined,” Jackson said in an interview. Asked about the resistance in Congress to gun control legislation, he cited the difficulty in passing civil rights legislation. “You have to be persistent. It was tough, but we were right,” he said.
President Obama on Wednesday vowed to “leave no stone unturned” in seeking ways to curb violence in American cities, although he did not call for any new gun control legislation. He said he nonetheless believes that even gun owners would agree “that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals” and that “we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons.”
A spokesman said Thursday that the White House was focused on enforcing laws on the books and broader efforts to stop violence.
“I think you're aware of the fact that there is a stalemate in Congress on a broad range of issues, and this would include this one,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “The assault weapons ban is an issue that the president has supported the reinstatement of since its expiration in 2004. But given the stalemate in Congress, our focus is on the steps that we can take to make sure criminals and others who should not have those guns … cannot obtain them.”
Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center, said the president was “moving — or crawling — in the right direction.”
On Capitol Hill, House SpeakerJohn A. Boehner(R-Ohio) said, “I think what’s appropriate at this point is to look at all the laws that we already have on the books and to make sure that they’re working as they were intended to work and are they being enforced the way they were intended to be enforced.’’
But James Johnson, the Baltimore County, Md., police chief, joined other law enforcement officers at the National Press Club to declare that a high-capacity magazine like one used in the Aurora shooting “simply has no place in civilian hands.”
“It is ridiculous to argue that hunters or civilians who own weapons for self-defense need a 100-round drum magazine,” he said. “As we have seen, people don’t stand a chance against this kind of firepower.”
While the weapons and bullets police say were used by Aurora shooting suspect James E. Holmes were legally purchased, Williams said that expanding background checks to cover all gun purchasers is needed. “We know that background checks do work and do prevent other dangerous people from acquiring firearms,” he said.
“Expanding background checks would affect only people prohibited from buying guns and would have no impact on law-abiding citizens’ ability to buy or sell guns to other law-abiding citizens,” he added.
The police groups face long odds.
The Republican-controlled House has moved to expand gun rights, passing a bill last year, with bipartisan support, to require states to observe concealed-weapons permits issued by other states. Many Democrats are skittish about bringing up gun control at a time when they’re courting rural votes.
“Some naysayers assert that there isn’t the will among lawmakers to strengthen federal gun laws,” Williams said. “We heard that repeated back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, but we prevailed then and we can prevail again.”
Legislation targeting ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds was introduced after the shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in Tucson, but the measure has languished for more than a year.
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a gun control advocate, welcomed law enforcement calls for tougher gun laws. “It's time we start listening to the experts on gun violence, who face the deadly reality of our nation's lax gun laws every day,” he said.
Staff writer Kathleen Hennessey of the Washington bureau contributed to this report.
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