Story Summary

New Gun Laws

Many government officials are proposing new laws to reduce gun violence.

2012 was a very violent year for public shootings. The first big shooting was in an Aurora, Colorado theater during the premiere of the new Batman movie;  James Eagan Holmes is the prime suspect in the killing of 12 and injuries of 58.

The last was the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, where 20 young children and 6 adults, including teachers, were shot to death by Adam Lanza before he turned the gun on himself. He also killed his mother in her home. Two were injured at Sandy Hook.

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National & World News

Georgia governor signs gun law

Georgia governor signs gun law

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a wide-ranging gun bill into law Wednesday, April 23, 2014, that has critics howling and proponents applauding.

By Devon M. Sayers and Eliott C. McLaughlin, ELLIJAY, Georgia (CNN) — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a wide-ranging gun bill into law Wednesday that has critics howling and proponents applauding.

House Bill 60, or the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014 — which opponents have nicknamed the “guns everywhere bill” — specifies where Georgia residents can carry weapons. Included are provisions that allow residents who have concealed carry permits to take guns into some bars, churches, school zones, government buildings and certain parts of airports.

GeorgiaCarry, which lobbied for the bill, calls it “meaningful pro-gun legislation,” despite it being watered down from the group’s perspective. Still, the group has lauded the legislation, which will go into effect July 1. Americans for Responsible Solutions opposed the bill, calling it “extremism in action.”

Wednesday’s signing came at an open-air picnic area along a creek in Ellijay, in northern Georgia. It opened with a prayer, the singing of the national anthem and a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Hundreds of people filled more than 25 picnic tables, while others stood. Many were openly carrying handguns, and some wore National Rifle Association hats and buttons proclaiming, “Stop Gun Control” and “Guns Save Lives.”

Calling it “a great day to reaffirm our liberties,” Deal said the law allows residents to protect their families and expands the list of places where they can legally carry firearms, while allowing certain property owners, namely churches and bars, to make judgments on whether they want worshippers and patrons carrying guns.

“The Second Amendment should never be an afterthought. It should be at the forefront of our minds,” Deal said while touting his NRA endorsement for governor and “A” rating during his 17 years in Congress.

The governor said the law “will protect the constitutional rights of Georgians who have gone through a background check to legally obtain a Georgia Weapons Carry License.

“Roughly 500,000 Georgia citizens have a permit of this kind, which is approximately 5 percent of our population. License holders have passed background checks and are in good standing with the law. This law gives added protections to those who have played by the rules — and who can protect themselves and others from those who don’t play by the rules.”

Americans for Responsible Solutions opposed the original bill that GeorgiaCarry pushed for, and while the group is pleased that the version Deal signed Wednesday doesn’t allow guns on college campuses or in churches, except in certain cases, it feels the legislation “takes Georgia out of the mainstream.”

“Among its many extreme provisions, it allows guns in TSA lines at the country’s busiest airport, forces community school boards into bitter, divisive debates about whether they should allow guns in their children’s classrooms, and broadens the conceal carry eligibility to people who have previously committed crimes with guns,” said Pia Carusone, the group’s senior adviser.

“So it is no surprise that while being trumpeted by the NRA as the ‘most comprehensive’ gun bill in state history, the legislation … was opposed by Georgia law enforcement, county commissioners, municipal leaders, and the Transportation Security Administration for its potentially harmful impact on Georgians’ safety.”

While the bill says no one is allowed to carry a firearm past an airport’s security screening checkpoint, it allows guns in other areas, including “an airport drive, general parking area, walkway, or shops and areas of the terminal that are outside the screening checkpoint.”

TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein would not say how the law might affect its agents at Georgia airports, particularly Atlanta’s, the world’s busiest, but he said, “Individuals who bring firearms to security checkpoints are referred to law enforcement and are subject to criminal penalties. However, TSA has the ability to impose a civil penalty.”

Another provision of the new law allows firearms into any government building that is open for business and doesn’t have security personnel restricting access or screening visitors.

Some critics have said it was hypocritical to allow guns in so many places but not the state Capitol. Deal addressed that perception in a question from reporters, saying the Capitol fell under a wider statewide provision that affects many government buildings, and it’s “a uniform carved-out area all across our state.”

The law also allows Georgians to carry guns into bars and churches as long as the property owner hasn’t banned them.

It also permits the carrying of firearms by any “duly authorized official of a public or private elementary or secondary school or a public or private technical school, vocational school, college, university, or other institution of post-secondary education or a local board of education.”

Deal also touted how HB60 would allow soldiers to obtain a carry license at age 18.

“If they’re old enough to hold a gun in defense of our liberties, then they’re old enough to hold a gun, and they shouldn’t have to wait until they’re 21.”

By Tom Cohen, WASHINGTON (CNN) — It may be politically quixotic, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein proceeded undeterred Wednesday in seeking an updated version of the assault weapons ban she sponsored in 1994 that expired a decade later.

At an emotional committee hearing, Feinstein brought together families who lost loved ones to gun violence, police officials and others to call for banning military style weapons from civilian use.

“It is hard for me to be here today to talk about my deceased son but I have to,” sobbed Neil Heslin, whose son, Jesse, was one of 20 first-graders shot to death in December in a Connecticut school. “I am his voice. I am not here for the sympathy or a pat on the back. There’s many people that stayed in the town of Newtown. I am here to speak up for my son.”

Despite later testimony from witnesses who cited statistics in challenging the effectiveness of tougher gun laws, Feinstein and other supporters said they couldn’t understand how anyone could argue that the general public has a constitutional right to weapons designed purely to kill as fast and brutally as possible.

“This is not a class. This is not a case study. People die. That’s what happens,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter in arguing that police officers in his city get outgunned by criminals.

“No one has ever been able to explain why a civilian should have a military style assault weapon for anything,” he added to applause in the hearing room.

Fierce opposition by the influential National Rifle Association and conservative legislators, including some Democrats, makes it virtually impossible that the kind of ban proposed by Feinstein will win congressional approval.

Instead, the legislative focus has shifted to expanding and strengthening background checks for gun purchases, as well as toughening laws against gun trafficking and so-called straw purchases.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing, Feinstein acknowledged the challenge, saying: “It’s an uphill climb.”

Clearly hoping the emotional scenes of Heslin and other victims of gun violence would generate public pressure on Congress to act, she said victory could be possible “with a little bit of help from the people of America.”

President Barack Obama has proposed a package that includes a ban on semi-automatic firearms that mimic military assault rifles, as well as limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds and requiring background checks on all gun sales to close a loophole for private transactions.

Feinstein is pushing the weapons ban component of legislation the Judiciary Committee will consider in coming weeks. She led the battle for the 1994 assault weapons ban, which ended in 2004 when Congress failed to renew it.

Photos of the Newtown victims filled a poster behind Feinstein as she opened Wednesday’s hearing by saying a renewed push for an assault weapons ban was necessary “because the massacre in Newtown was sadly not an anomaly.”

Citing seven mass shootings in 2012 that included notorious incidents in Aurora, Colorado, and the Connecticut attack, Feinstein said “we cannot allow the carnage I have described to continue.”

Her proposal would ban the manufacture or sale of hundreds of semi-automatic weapons modeled after military assault rifles, as well as ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

Anticipating arguments by the NRA and other opponents, Feinstein made clear the proposal only applied to future sales, saying anyone who legally owns one of the weapons targeted could keep it.

In addition, the legislation specifically excludes more than 2,000 kinds of shotguns and other firearms designed and used for hunting and sporting purposes, she noted.

A video clip she played showed how legal semi-automatic rifles can be easily modified to fire like fully automatic weapons that are banned under current law.

Republican opponents of Feinstein’s proposal argued that the 1994 ban proved ineffective, citing studies that determined the law had no direct effect in reducing gun violence.

In one of several clashes between legislators and witnesses, conservative Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina challenged Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn over a lack of prosecutions of people who failed to pass background gun checks.

When Graham said the low number of prosecutions showed current laws weren’t being enforced, Flynn angrily responded that police officers have to prioritize resources and go after armed criminals instead of “chasing paper,” such as failed background checks.

“We don’t chase paper. We chase people who have guns illegally,” Flynn said, talking over Graham’s efforts to stop him.

Another witness, U.S. Attorney John Walsh of Colorado, later responded to a similar argument from conservative Sen. John Cornyn of Texas by saying that “we go for the worst of the worst.”

“The worst of the worst is a bad guy actually using a gun,” Walsh said, adding that the 1.5 million gun sales rejected by a failed background check was “a record of success” regardless of how many prosecutions ensued.

Feinstein and other supporters also noted that limits on ammunition magazines would require attackers in mass shootings to reload more frequently, providing more time to stop them.

However, witnesses opposed to limits on weapons contended Feinstein’s proposal would be open to legal challenge, and would give criminals who acquire weapons illegally an advantage over law-abiding gun owners.

Former Rep. Sandy Adams, R-Florida, said it was not the time for “feel-good legislation so you can say you did something.”

“Taking guns from law-abiding citizens while leaving them defenseless against violent criminals, who by their very definition do not abide by the law, is not the answer and it is definitely not the right thing to do,” she said in her opening statement.

The reference to “feel-good legislation” drew a rebuke from Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, who told Adams that he was sorry she used the phrase.

“I don’t feel good about being here today,” Durbin said. “Mr. Heslin does not feel good about being here today.”

Feinstein noted that the 1994 ban was challenged repeatedly in federal courts on multiple grounds, including Second Amendment protections, and survived each time.

In his opening statement, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa conceded that some gun legislation would emerge in the aftermath of the Newtown killings. In particular, he said, new laws would target gun trafficking and straw purchases — in which a legal buyer purchases firearms for other who are ineligible.

The Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, was adamant Sunday that expanded background checks would not include provisions to register gun owners. But he said that responsible Americans looking to purchase firearms shouldn’t fear robust checks.

To Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way, an independent policy group, what she called “political reality” means that Congress will focus more on keeping weapons out of the wrong hands instead of a new weapons ban.

That strategy reflects “an understanding of gun crime in the country,” she told CNN earlier this month.

The NRA and other opponents contend that any limit on private gun ownership violates the constitutional right to bear arms. Even partial steps in that direction, such as prohibiting specific models, are considered a path to potential confiscation or other future elimination of Second Amendment rights, they argue.

In recent decades, the NRA has led lobbying efforts that shifted the discussion away from stronger gun controls — such as an outright ban on handguns and a national registration of gun ownership pushed by top Democrats in the 1980s and 90s — to the incremental measures under consideration now.

Erickson Hatalsky, the director of social policy and politics at Third Way, noted examples of the NRA’s influence in the last significant gun legislation — the Brady Bill of 1993 that required background checks on guns purchased from licensed dealers, followed by the limited assault weapons ban a year later.

While the Brady Bill led to the background check system in use today, the NRA made sure it didn’t apply to private sales, such as those at gun shows, she said.

NRA President David Keene has said he expected few substantive changes in law because the emotional reaction to the Newtown shooting would eventually give way to common sense regarding gun rights and the wishes of American gun owners.

His organization keeps a scorecard for each Washington legislator on gun issues, and spends millions on campaign contributions to favored candidates.

In Congress, some influential Democrats join virtually all Republicans in opposing, or at least questioning, a renewed ban on semi-automatic weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle used in the Newtown shootings.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who gets high marks from the NRA for his opposition to past gun control efforts, has indicated support for expanding background checks but refuses to endorse a new weapons ban.

According to Reid, a bill from the Judiciary Committee was unlikely to include an updated weapons ban, but he would allow a vote on the provision during floor debate.

Such a vote would amount to Feinstein’s last stand on the issue.

Local News

Comcast pulls plug on gun-related ads

Comcast is joining a growing list of companies that have pulled the plug on gun and gun-related advertisements. Comcast acquired NBC Universal this month which prompted the change. Chris Ellis Senior Director of Communications with Comcast Spotlight provided this statement: “Consistent with long-standing NBC policies, Comcast Spotlight has decided it will not accept new advertising for firearms or weapons moving forward.  This policy aligns us with the guidelines in place at many media organizations.”

The decision is getting mixed reaction.

“I think it’s unfortunate, I’m an NRA member and I own guns,” said Stuart Rinehart. “I’m just a strong gun supporter and we have the right to the Second Amendment and it’s our freedom so that’s why it really upsets me about that. I think it’s going to hurt business. It’s going to affect me with Comcast business I’ll probably switch to DirecTV or Dish Network.”

Helena Pannell of York thinks it’s a good idea to ban gun-related ads. “It’s a good thing because I have a brother who died from gun violence. I think it would be way positive for my kids not to see it. A lot of kids that are one and up actually do the hand gestures and want to play so I think it’s a lot better not to show them at all.”

Companies with similar policies in place, like Google, they say they don’t want to promote devices designed to cause serious harm or injury. This includes guns, gun parts, ammunition, knives, throwing stars, and more.

Here are links to companies who already have similar policies in place:

Fox Broadcasting

By Ashley Killough, (CNN) — Continuing his charge against the Obama administration on gun control proposals, Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association is scheduled to respond to the president’s State of the Union while speaking Thursday at the annual convention for the National Wild Turkey Federation in Nashville.

The speech comes one day after LaPierre issued a rally-cry for gun owners, writing in an op-ed that “good Americans are prudently getting ready to protect themselves” against what he described as an onslaught of doom.

“Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face-not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival,” the NRA’s executive vice president wrote in the op-ed published Wednesday by the conservative news website, The Daily Caller.

“It’s responsible behavior,” he continued. “And it’s time we encourage law-abiding Americans to do just that.”

LaPierre has been a leading yet controversial voice against gun control proposals as Washington grapples with a flood of firearm legislation in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school shooting. President Obama also renewed his plea for Congress to vote on tougher gun laws during his State of the Union address earlier this week.

“Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote,” Obama said. “Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.”

LaPierre wrote that defenders of gun rights are more fired up than ever to purchase firearms-not because they fear conflict with the government, as some have argued, but because they “anticipate confrontations where the government isn’t there.”

As examples, he cited stories of looting after Superstorm Sandy, claimed terrorists would infiltrate through the U.S. southern border and warned of a lack of funds to pay for police protection should Obama’s fiscal policies result in economic disaster.

“No wonder Americans are buying guns in record numbers right now, while they still can and before their choice about which firearm is right for their family is taken away forever,” he wrote.

White House Senior Adviser David Plouffe responded to the op-ed, writing on Twitter Wednesday that it’s “hard to believe this is real. Every GOPer should read and decide if this delusional person will call the shots.”

LaPierre further laid out a four-year plan for a “resistance movement” that entails fighting legal battles against gun law legislation, boosting NRA membership, and strengthening the organization financially. Deep into his op-ed, he called for donations-“$20, $50, $250, or $1,000 at a time-and dedicated several paragraphs to reasons why the group needed more members.

“An even stronger NRA is the only chance gun owners have to withstand the coming siege,” he wrote, saying the group is launching a “full-court initiative” to recruit more “lover(s) of freedom.” The group already one of the largest advocacy organizations, with four million members.

“This begins with remembering to keep your own membership active, or reactivate it if it has lapsed,” he continued. “It means reminding yourself, ‘I have a son and daughter who aren’t members and should be’.”

LaPierre also blamed the media, certain lawmakers and high-profile figures, such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for making Americans “feel guilty about buying a gun.”

“The enemies of freedom demonize gun buyers and portray us as social lepers,” he added.

Concluding his op-ed, LaPierre vowed that NRA members “will not surrender.”

“We will not appease. We will buy more guns than ever. We will use them for sport and lawful self-defense more than ever. We will grow the NRA more than ever. And we will be prouder than ever to be freedom-loving NRA patriots,” he wrote. “We will Stand and Fight.”

By Tom Cohen, WASHINGTON (CNN) – Eight weeks after the massacre of 20 Connecticut first-graders, a ban on the kind of semi-automatic rifle used by the killer remains elusive — if not impossible.

Such a ban became a rallying cry for victims’ families, advocacy groups and politicians supporting tougher gun laws in the emotional aftermath of the Newtown shootings in December.

President Barack Obama still calls for updating a 1994 assault weapons ban that expired 10 years later as part of his package of steps intended to reduce chronic gun violence in America, especially in major cities.

However, fierce opposition by the powerful National Rifle Association and millions of American gun owners has shifted debate away from prohibiting specific weapons to making it harder for criminals, terrorists and the mentally ill to obtain guns.

Along with a renewed ban on semi-automatic weapons, Obama also wants to limit magazine clips to 10 rounds, expand background checks to all gun sales, crack down on gun trafficking, and strengthen efforts to prevent firearms from falling into the wrong hands.

The multi-faceted proposal provided Congress with options on legislation, enhancing chances of passing some provisions, said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, director of social policy and politics at Third Way, a Washington think tank that proposes policy compromises on major issues.

While her group supports a renewed ban on military style weapons, Erickson Hatalsky said “political reality” dictated a different approach.

“Keeping guns out of the wrong hands is not only more politically palatable but also more effective to stop gun violence,” she explained.

That strategy reflects “an understanding of gun crime in the country,” she added.

Opinion polls back up her assertion.

A Quinnipiac University survey released Thursday showed that 92% of respondents support expanding background checks to all gun sales. In households with guns, support was 91%.

However, a majority of households with guns opposed a renewed ban on semi-automatic weapons, while the full survey showed 56% of respondents backed the provision.

The poll also found that 46% of respondents believe the NRA better reflects their views on guns, compared to 43% for Obama.


Diverse views in America

Obama acknowledged on Thursday that Americans have diverse views on the issue, depending on where they grew up and how they live.

“There are different realities and we have to respect them,” he told House Democrats at their policy retreat, noting rural hunters and urban dwellers come from distinct gun cultures.

At the same time, the president called for action, saying “there are commonsense steps we can take and build a consensus around, and we cannot shy away from taking them.”

Earlier this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney made clear that the goal was progress on reducing gun violence, rather than any specific provision.

Carney called proposals backed by legislators from both parties “the first progress we’ve seen in many, many years dealing with gun violence.” But none of the measures he mentioned — expanded background checks, cracking down on gun trafficking, criminalizing “straw” purchases in which legal buyers obtain weapons for those unable to do so — included a new ban on semi-automatic weapons.

NRA President Bob Keene said he expected few substantive changes in law because “people are smarter than politicians,” which means “common sense ultimately prevails.”

“They hope that they can use emotion to achieve an anti-firearms agenda that they haven’t been able to achieve in the past,” Keene told a recent Christian Science Monitor breakfast event.

“I am convinced that as these things are discussed, that we’re going to come out about where we have come out in the past,” he added.

His organization keeps a scorecard for each Washington legislator on gun issues, and spends millions on campaign contributions to favored candidates.

In the nearly two months since the Newtown shootings, Obama and the White House have sought to maintain public attention on the issue.

Vice President Joe Biden will take part in a roundtable discussion on gun violence on Monday in Philadelphia.

Four days later, Obama will award the Presidential Citizens Medal — the nation’s second-highest civiian honor — posthumously to the six educators killed with the 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

In Congress, some influential Democrats join virtually all Republicans in opposing, or at least questioning, a renewed ban on semi-automatic weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle used in the Newtown shootings.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who gets high marks from the NRA for his opposition to past gun control efforts, has indicated support for expanding background checks but refuses to endorse a new weapons ban.

According to Reid, a bill from the Senate Judiciary Committee was unlikely to include an updated weapons ban, but he would allow a vote on the provision during floor debate.

Weapons like the Bushmaster mimic the appearance and some features of fully automatic military rifles, though they technically do not meet the definition of an assault weapon because they are semi-automatic — meaning each shot requires a trigger pull.

Supporters of a ban say such weapons have no place in the general public because they are designed solely for rapid-fire killing capacity, rather than hunting or sport shooting.


Right to bear arms

The NRA and other opponents contend that any limit on private gun ownership violates the constitutional right to bear arms. Even partial steps in that direction, such as prohibiting specific models, are considered a path to potential confiscation or other future elimination of Second Amendment rights, they argue.

In recent decades, the NRA has led lobbying efforts that shifted the discussion away from stronger gun controls — such as an outright ban on handguns and a national registration of gun ownership pushed by top Democrats in the 1980s and 90s — to the incremental measures under consideration now.

Erickson Hatalsky of Third Way noted examples of the NRA’s influence in the last significant gun legislation — the Brady Bill of 1993 that required background checks on guns purchased from licensed dealers, followed by the limited assault weapons ban a year later.

While the Brady Bill led to the background check system in use today, the NRA made sure it didn’t apply to private sales, such as those at gun shows, she said.

Obama and other Democrats now want to close what they call a loophole to make background checks a requirement for any gun sale.

The issue gained prominence after the Columbine high school shootings in 1999 in which three guns used by the two underage killers had been purchased by 18-year-old Robyn Anderson at a Colorado gun show to avoid a background check.

Anderson later told a Colorado House of Representatives committee that the gun purchases had been “too easy.”

“I wish it had been more difficult,” she said. “I wouldn’t have helped them buy the guns if I had faced a background check.”

The 1994 weapons ban targeting military style weapons was gone 10 years later, when Congress let it expire in the administration of President George W. Bush — an outcome sought by the NRA.

Keene and other NRA officials argue the ban failed to reduce gun violence because it targeted firearms used in only a fraction of the nation’s gun violence. They also contend the government isn’t properly enforcing the background checks created by Brady Bill, making an expansion illogical.

“We are not willing to support measures we feel unduly burden innocent and law-abiding Americans, and on the other side do not have any real impact on the problem we’re trying to solve,” Keene said.

To Erickson Hatalsky, the goal is to get laws on the books that make it harder for criminals, terrorists and the mentally ill to obtain guns — either through private sales or from traffickers through straw purchases.

Minor exceptions would apply to family members giving guns to each other, or people borrowing guns on a hunting ground, she said.

“How are they going to stop somebody who’s a gun trafficker if there’s no federal law against that now,” she wondered.


Limits on magazine rounds

A tougher issue involves proposed limits on ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, she said. Larger capacity magazines allow semi-automatic weapons to fire dozens of rounds in seconds.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun control last week, Mark Kelly argued that the proposed limit could have prevented the death of a young girl in the Tucson, Arizona, attack that seriously wounded his wife — former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

According to Kelly, the 13th shot fired killed 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, and the shooter got tackled when trying to reload. With a 10-round limit, Green might still be alive, he said.

The NRA and its supporters say larger-capacity magazines are popular, with millions already in the possession of American gun owners who want them to feel secure against criminals armed with similar firepower.

They also contend citizens have the right to such weaponry to protect against future government tyranny, which they say was the intent of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.

Erickson Hatalsky rejected any inference by the NRA or its supporters that Obama’s proposals or other measures being discussed in Congress amount to taking away people’s guns.

She praised the president’s strategy of presenting a broad package for Congress to consider, saying: “It behooves people who are working on this issue to keep the NRA arguing about lots of different issues, rather than allowing it to concentrate on one and defeat it.”

CNN’s Halimah Abdullah contributed to this report.

By Dana Bash and Tom Cohen, WASHINGTON (CNN) — Her voice was halting, but not weak.

Two years after being shot in the head by a gunman at a political event, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords appeared at the first congressional hearing since last month’s Connecticut school massacre to urge Congress to act now on gun violence.

“Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something,” Giffords said in a rare public appearance Wednesday, reading a statement that acknowledged her injuries made it difficult to speak.

“It will be hard, but the time is now,” she told the packed hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The panel also heard from voices on both sides of the gun control issue in the nearly four-hour hearing that illustrated the deep political and ideological divisions over a longstanding issue.

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre blamed the government for failing to enforce existing gun laws and said new restrictions, including background checks, won’t stop criminals from using weapons in violent crime.

“Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals, nor do we believe that government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families,” he said.

Democratic senators led by California’s Dianne Feinstein, who is proposing a ban on semi-automatic rifles and ammunition magazines exceeding 10 rounds, argued that restricting access to such firepower and expanding background checks to as many gun sales as possible will help.

Giffords’ husband, retired astronaut and naval aviator Mark Kelly, called for a “careful and civil conversation” on new gun limits and a broad new acceptance of society’s responsibility to keep firearms from dangerous people.

“Our rights are paramount. But our responsibilities are serious,” he said. “And as a nation, we are not taking responsibility for the gun rights our founding fathers have conferred upon us.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the committee’s Democratic chairman from Vermont, called for stronger background checks and a crackdown on so-called straw purchases, in which people who can pass background checks buy weapons for others. Leahy has proposed a measure to increase penalties for straw purchasers.

However, Leahy avoided endorsing an expanded ban on the assault-style weapons called for by President Barack Obama and Feinstein.

“Second Amendment rights are the foundation on which our discussion rests. They are not at risk,” Leahy said. “But lives are at risk when responsible people fail to stand up for laws that will keep guns out of the hands of those who will use them to commit mass murder. I ask that we focus our discussion on additional statutory measures to better protect our children and all Americans.”

The hearing came a few weeks after Obama announced legislative proposals aimed at curbing gun violence following the December 14 shootings that left 20 children and six adults dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The shooter, Adam Lanza, also killed his mother and himself.

Obama’s proposals include a ban on popular semi-automatic rifles that mimic assault weapons, a limit of 10 rounds per magazine, and universal background checks for anyone buying a gun, whether at a store or in a private sale. Guns sold through private sales currently avoid background checks — the so-called gun show loophole.

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said at Wednesday’s hearing that he is in talks with colleagues — including several who are ranked highly by the NRA — on possible legislation to expand background checks on private gun sales.

Sources close to both Schumer and Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma told CNN the two were in serious discussions about co-sponsoring a bill to strengthen background checks.

The NRA, which is the public face of the powerful gun lobby, opposes many government limits on gun ownership as a violation of the constitutional right to bear arms.

LaPierre insisted Wednesday that the current background check system doesn’t work, so expanding it would only create an unmanageable government bureaucracy instead of reducing gun crime in the country.

“The fact is the law right now is a failure, the way it’s working,” he said. “The fact is that you have 76,000-some people that have been denied under the present law. Only 44 were prosecuted. You’re letting them go. They’re walking the streets.”

Instead, he called for better enforcement of all existing gun laws and creating “an immediate blanket of security around our children” by putting armed guards at all the nation’s schools.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney called LaPierre’s statistic an intentional diversion “from another issue that is part of this, which is the need for broader and universal background checks.”

“This is being pushed as a reason not to do something that the overwhelming majority of the American people support,” Carney said, later adding that “the skepticism you’re hearing” comes from those “who don’t want to do anything on this issue.”

During the hearing, an exchange between LaPierre and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, showed the deeply held positions on each side.

After LaPierre complained that expanded background checks would only burden law-abiding citizens and said they make no sense because criminals ignore the system, Durbin commented that the NRA official missed the point.

“The criminals won’t go to purchase the guns because there will be a background check,” Durbin said. “We’ll stop them from the original purchase. You missed that point completely. And I think it’s basic.”

LaPierre responded that it was Durbin who failed to understand, adding as Leahy banged his gavel for order that “if you are not prosecuting them, you are not even stopping them.”

He and other opponents of more gun control also depicted extreme scenarios of Americans under threat in their homes and at schools to make the case for access to semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“We all know that homicidal maniacs, criminals and the insane don’t abide by the law,” LaPierre said.

Another witness, Gayle Trotter of the Independent Women’s Forum, repeatedly described scenes of women at home with their children needing weapons that would be banned under Feinstein’s proposal to fight off bigger, stronger male attackers.

“An assault weapon in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon and the peace of mind that a woman has as she’s facing three, four, five violent attackers, intruders in her home with her children screaming in the background, the peace of mind that she has knowing that she has a scary looking gun gives her more courage when she’s fighting hard and violent criminals,” Trotter said. “If we ban these types of assault weapons, you are putting women at a great disadvantage.”

Other witnesses and senators who support tougher regulations countered that the constitutional right to bear arms can be limited, for example, by the existing ban on private citizens possessing grenade launchers and other military weaponry.

“I think most people believe that, sure, we could have guards at schools,” Feinstein said, making a reference to the Columbine, Colorado, school massacre in 1999 in which two students killed 13 people before shooting themselves. “I’m well aware that at Columbine there was a deputy sheriff who was armed who actually took a shot but couldn’t hit the shooter there. The question comes, what do you do about the malls then? What do you do about our movie theaters? What do you do about businesses. We can’t have a totally armed society.”

The police chief of Baltimore County in Maryland, James Johnson, endorsed what he called the holistic approach urged by Obama to create a system that reduces access to guns for people who shouldn’t have them.

“The best way to stop a bad guy from getting a gun in the first place is a good background check,” said Johnson, the chairman of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence.

However, Denver University law professor David Kopel said the Supreme Court made clear in a Washington, D.C., case that gun controls could not include weapons used commonly by law-abiding citizens, such as the top-selling AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that Feinstein’s legislation would ban.

The hearing showed agreement in concept on some issues, such as strengthening mental health screening. In general, though, it appeared to do little to create common ground on the issue.

Leahy said he hopes the committee will begin considering legislation next month.

The NRA’s membership has spiked by 500,000 people since the Newtown shooting, bringing its number to more than 4.5 million, the group said Wednesday.

In the meantime, Kelly and Giffords have launched Americans for Responsible Solutions to push for gun control.

On Tuesday, Kelly said that despite the Tucson, Arizona, shooting that wounded his wife and killed six others, he and Giffords still support the Second Amendment, which guarantees Americans the right to possess firearms.

“But we really need to do something about the safety of our kids and our communities. It’s gotten really out of hand,” he said.

After Wednesday’s hearing, Kelly made a point of approaching LaPierre to shake his hand as media cameras recorded the moment.

CNN’s Faith Karimi and Arielle Hawkins contributed to this report.

By David Ariosto, (CNN) — His voice wavering, Mark Mattioli wiped away tears as he recalled the day his 6-year-old son died when a man wielding an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School and began shooting.

His son, James, was among the 20 children and six adults killed by Adam Lanza on December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut — an event so horrific that it has since spawned a federal task force and kick-started a national conversation about gun control.

But unlike the handful of other parents who testified Monday at the emotionally-charged hearing in Hartford, Connecticut, Mattioli said there are more than enough gun laws on the books. He called instead for a closer look at mental health policies.

“I don’t care if you named it ‘James’ law,’ I don’t want (another law),” he said during the first of a series of meetings set up by a legislative task force assigned to review the state’s gun laws.

“I think there’s much more promise for a solution in identifying, researching and creating solutions along the lines of mental health.”

Connecticut’s medical examiner said he was told that Lanza, 20, had Asperger’s syndrome. Research has not shown a link between that condition and violence.

The hearing drew hundreds to the Connecticut state house and revealed the sharp divide in public opinion over what should happen next in the massacre’s aftermath.

“The time is now,” said Veronique Pozner, whose son, Noah, was also killed, referring a strengthening of the nation’s gun laws.

With a framed photo of her slain 6-year-old boy propped up beside her, Pozner called on Connecticut to become “an agent for change” across the country.

During her testimony, she held up crayon drawing that Noah had once scrawled on Thanksgiving.

“I am thankful for the life I live,” he had written.

At one point during the hearing, Neil Heslin, father of a 6-year-old boy named Jesse, who was also gunned down that day, asked why the public needed assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Some people in the crowd then interrupted his statement, shouting comments in response.

“We’re not living in the Wild West. We’re not a Third World nation,” Heslin continued. “We have the strongest military in the world. We don’t need to defend our homes with weapons like that.”

Connecticut already has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws.

Gov. Dannel Malloy, a first-term Democrat, has also vowed to address the factors that led to last month’s massacre and set up a 16-member panel of experts to come up with recommendations. It includes experts who reviewed policies after mass shootings in Colorado and at Virginia Tech.

The panel must meet a March 15 deadline for its initial report, which Malloy is expected to use in drafting initiatives aimed at reducing gun violence.

Local Gun Shop Addresses Assault Weapons Ban

State Representative Daryl Metcalfe today announced legislation that would make any new federal gun control laws  unenforceable within Pennsylvania.

“Passage of my legislation will send the message that there will never be additional gun control, anywhere in Pennsylvania,” said Metcalfe, a Butler County Republican.   “Whether by White House executive orders, congressional fiat, or judicial activism, we will never allow the left to benefit from the wicked acts of murderers in order advance their senseless gun-grabbing agenda which would only succeed in replacing one of our most sacred personal liberties with the chains of government tyranny.”

Similar to legislation most recently introduced in Wyoming and Texas, Metcalfe’s Right to Bear Arms Protection Act (House Bill 357) would:

  • Prohibit enforcement of any new federal registration, restriction or prohibition requirement for privately owned firearms, magazines and ammunition.
  • Require the state of Pennsylvania, including the Office of Attorney General, to intercede on behalf of Commonwealth citizens against any federal attempt to register, restrict or ban the purchase or ownership of firearms and firearms accessories which are currently legal products.

Final enactment of Metcalfe’s Right to Bear Arms Protection Act would mean that anyone — even federal agents — who try to enforce any type of gun control restriction within state borders would face arrest and being charged with a felony offense.

“The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned,” said Metcalfe.  “Article 1, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution makes it crystal clear that no level of government, especially the federal government, has any authority whatsoever to impose senseless restrictions on law-abiding firearms owners, or worse, the confiscation of legally owned firearms.  The purpose of my legislation is to force any gun-grabbing federal official to count the costs of unconstitutionally disarming or denying Pennsylvania citizens their God-given right to keep and bear arms.”

Metcalfe is also calling on all Pennsylvania citizens who support Constitutional liberty to attend Pennsylvania’s annual Second Amendment Action Day on Tuesday, April 23, beginning at 10:00 a.m. in the State Capitol Rotunda, and to sign the all-new Armed Pennsylvania: Say to No Gun Control petition by visiting

Local News

Central Pa. mayors in D.C. to discuss gun control

Several mayors from Central Pennsylvania are in the nation’s capitol for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

They included Harrisburg’s Linda Thompson, York’s Kim Bracey and Lancaster’s Rick Gray.

The president of the group, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, said the group will discuss President Obama’s gun control proposals during the three-day conference.

“The one thing I know we all agree on is that we want our communities to be safe,” Nutter said. “We come from a variety of places that have different thoughts and ideas about gun ownership and gun safety and gun regulations. We must incorporate all of those thoughts and ideas in our discussions.”

Vice President Joe Biden stopped in on the conference on Thursday to discuss the President’s plan.

Besides gun control, this year’s meeting will focus on job creation, the fiscal cliff, and immigration.