Image: Bullet replica used to remove ammunition magazine
Rich Pedroncelli  /  AP
A plastic replica of a bullet is used to quickly remove a ammunition magazine from an assault rifle in a demonstration at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento, Calif., Aug. 15. Current law requires some type of tool, even something like a bullet, be used when reloading. State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, is proposing to change California law to make it more difficult and time-consuming to reload.
updated 8/16/2012 9:30:19 PM ET 2012-08-17T01:30:19

Democratic leaders in three big states have used this summer's mass shooting in Colorado to push bills that would crack down on assault weapons and ammunition sales, rekindling a debate that has not gained much traction in Congress or on the presidential campaign.

In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed that his state enact a strict ban on assault weapons, similar to California's. New York lawmakers have proposed wide-ranging legislation that would limit weapons purchases.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris and the Democratic state Senate leader back a bill that would make it more difficult and time-consuming to reload assault weapons. The chairmen of public safety committees in California's Assembly and Senate co-authored a bill that would require dealers to report purchases of large quantities of ammunition to law enforcement authorities.

Poll: Views on gun laws unchanged after Aurora theater massacre

The suspect in the July 20 Colorado shooting, James Holmes, legally bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition online without raising authorities' attention. He had four weapons, including an assault rifle, on him after the rampage that killed 12 people and injured 58 at a midnight movie screening.

"California sets the pace for the country. If there's no action in Congress, we better do something here and hope it catches fire in other states," said state Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat who authored the legislation that would slow down the process of reloading an assault weapon with a new magazine.

With strong support from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York lawmakers have offered a similar rationale for proposing a series of bills that together would give their state the nation's toughest gun control laws.

"I think there is appetite for reform," Cuomo told reporters this week. "I think that's a good thing, and I think that's one of the issues I'm going to have at the top of the list next January."

Video: The role of gun control in U.S. violence (on this page)

The prospects for the proposals are uncertain, but Democratic political strength in each state provides momentum that would be largely absent in Republican-dominated states. California, for example, has some of the toughest gun laws in the country and last year enacted a ban on the open carry of unloaded handguns.

Democrats control the statehouse and governor's office in California and Illinois, and all but the state Senate in New York. Even with half the legislature in Republican hands, Cuomo said he believes Republican lawmakers will work with him on gun-control legislation.

In California, Yee and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, who authored the bulk ammunition bill, said they are optimistic because they already have the support of influential lawmakers — and, in Yee's case, the state attorney general.

The proposals are not likely to be addressed in earnest until lawmakers return next year, since most of this year's legislative sessions are finished and California has just a few weeks left.

The push in some of the nation's most populous and liberal-leaning states illustrates a national divide, often along party lines, over whether the public should have unfettered access to military-style weaponry and ammunition.

"It's time for the people to band together in our state ... and do something about these weapons. We should remember those who lost their lives," Quinn said last month after he added his gun control proposal onto a bill that had dealt with ammunition sales.

Video: Mayor Bloomberg: Now is the time to talk gun control (on this page)

New York state Sen. Michael Gianaris has proposed legislation limiting firearms purchases to one a month, requiring background checks for all gun sales, a firearms safety course for gun buyers and a cooling-off period before a gun could be picked up after purchase. It also would require that sales of firearms and ammunition be reported within 24 hours.

Fellow Democratic Sen. Jose Peralta also introduced a bill that would prohibit the sale or purchase of more than 500 rounds of ammunition during any 30-day period.

"The recent rash of gun violence makes clear that enough is enough," Gianaris said in a statement.

The leaders hope the legislation will go further than gun control bills have in Congress, where Republicans are generally opposed to further restrictions and Democrats are reluctant to engage on the issue during a presidential election year.

After the Colorado shooting, two Democrats introduced a bill that would prohibit the general public from buying thousands of rounds of ammunition by mail or online.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said the Senate's schedule is too crowded to allow a debate on gun control this year and has been noncommittal about whether Congress would consider the issue next year. The White House has said President Barack Obama will not push for stricter gun laws this year.

Story: American gun lovers turn to Russian AK-47s

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, complained after the Colorado shooting that Congress has failed since 2004 to renew the federal assault weapons ban she authored a year after a gunman killed eight people in a San Francisco high-rise in 1993.

Nor will Congress take up the bill introduced after the Colorado shootings by U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy of New York.

"The reality is that these tragic shootings will continue if we can't break the gun lobby's stranglehold on Congress," Lautenberg said in a statement.

Since 1990, the National Rifle Association's political action committee and individuals associated with the NRA have contributed nearly $19 million to members or candidates for Congress, with 82 percent of those contributions going to Republicans, according to The Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.

Video: How the gun control argument has shifted (on this page)

The National Rifle Association did not respond to repeated messages left by The Associated Press over several days. Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said the state's current laws are already working and don't need to be tougher. He cited a 2010 state attorney general's report that found less than 4 percent of the weapons used in violent crimes and sent to state crime labs were assault weapons.

"We're governed by people who have an inordinate fear, a knee-jerk, visceral, emotional reaction to guns," Paredes said.

The divide is not just between states and the federal government, but also between Democratic- and Republican-leaning states.

In Wyoming, for example, the Republican-dominated Legislature recently passed a bill allowing residents to carry concealed guns with no permit or background check. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, defended gun rights even after a shooting this week near Texas A&M University that killed three people including a police official and the gunman.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the gun control proposals were a step in the right direction.

"There are places where we're seeing kind of the hopeful signs," he said. "But right now, there are far too few of them."


Associated Press writers Michael Gormley in Albany, N.Y.; Sophia Tareen in Chicago; Ben Neary in Cheyenne, Wyo.; and Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: The role of gun control in U.S. violence

  1. Closed captioning of: The role of gun control in U.S. violence

    >> but secretary chertoff, the governor made an interesting point. this is a democrat, former democratic mayor of denver . he, like colleagues like mayor bloomberg may believe in greater gun control laws, but he also references the fact that everything was purchased legally here and we live in an age where if he couldn't have gotten to guns, he was building bombs in his apartment as well. so the notion that somehow you eliminate that danger in a gun control debate is going to be bitterly fought.

    >> well, that's what's striking is you look at what we've heard about the apartment and the sophistication of the devices that were disarmed or disabled there, and you realize that even the kind of ingredients that you can find in your own kitchen can be used to make bombs. so the problem here is with the people and not with the tools. but i want to go back to something bill bratton said which i think is really important. we need to understand more about the signs that show somebody is either becoming deranged or becoming a terrorist, because there's a commonality we see again and again, which is a sudden change in behavior, usually some element of becoming more isolated and changing the way you relate to people. we've seen that with terrorists who became radicalized in europe and we've now seen it of course in this terrible tragedy . so we need to understand better how we detect the early warning signs . the last thing, david, is by coincidence this week there was a report on the ft. hood shooting. and the question there again was how come major hassan was not detected earlier before the horrible shootings in ft. hood. it was in a sense of failure of imagination. here's somebody who was getting radicalized, who was communicating with a terrorist over the internet and yet the people looking at that somehow they couldn't get their heads around the assumption that somehow because he was an army officer, he couldn't be turning in a bad direction. so we need to rethink our approach to this.

    >> a lot of points there, but chief, can you comment on the gun issue and the coming gun debate?

    >> two comments, if i may. the congressman who made the comment about if people in the theater had been armed they may have been able to stop this individual. he was armed to the teeth with all types of bullet protection materials. the ability of a citizen to try and take that individual down equipped the way he was would have been de minimus . the responding officers -- it seems his semiautomatic weapon jammed, otherwise they would have been outgunned, the responding officers. he would have been able to basically the way he was equipped take them on. first responding officers weren't s.w.a.t. officers so this issue of arm everybody, i'm sorry, in this circumstance i don't know that that would have made a difference.

    >> can i say something. you know, as horrible as this tragedy was and is, you have to remember how many people are killed every single day.

    >> 55.

    >> are getting illegal guns. and so when people say and the nra will say that also, oh, she's going to try to talk about gun control , gun safety issues, i do it because this happens every single day.

    >> right. but you're a politician now. and the political debate seems to be frozen on the issue of guns. mayor bloomberg was trying to, you know, get people to focus again. here was the headline after congresswoman giffords, one of your own colleagues, was shot. the headline, president obama saying we must seek agreement on gun reforms. his own advisers saying, yes, we're going to get that conversation started again. there's been nothing. even after your own colleague was shot. i mean for democrats, it seems they don't want to -- they really don't want to take on this issue.

    >> i personally think that it was a fallacy after -- when president clinton was able to pass the assault weapons bill. everybody forgets about that time in history. we also raised taxes so there was a lot of things going on. i personally don't think that members that lost that following year actually lost because of the gun issue. myself and several other people were elected the following year on the gun issue. so i think that there's a lot of myths out there as far as that goes. and i always look at it this way, no one from the nra is ever going to vote for me. they're just not. they might even come after me on other issues. but the thing of it is, as a politician, a lot of politicians know it's the right thing to try to fight for something to save lives. they don't have the spine anymore. they pander to who's giving them money.

    >> secretary chertoff, you've worked in a political administration, you deal with counterterror threats but you also paid attention to somebody who thinks about threats around the country to political dialogue, the dialogue across the media spectrum from entertainment to news and commentary. and i was thinking, harkening back to president obama 's words after gabby giffords was shot and anthony bill clinton back in 1995 after oklahoma city , and i'll put something he said up on the screen. he said back then, president clinton , we hear so many loud and angry voices in america today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. they spread hate. they leave the impression that by their very words that violence is acceptable. we know nothing about motivation in this particular case, political or otherwise. but president clinton 's words back in 1995 could be true today, couldn't they, about how some of the public discourse can fall on more vulnerable ears?

    >> i think that's right. and if anything, i think the temperature has gotten even more heated in the years since president clinton made that statement and it's been amplified by the internet. look, no one can say that any particular comment leads a madman to decide to do this. but i do believe that the general coursening and aggravation of the dialogue, the fact that disagreement is often characterized as a matter of people having enemies or wanting to commit acts of violence does affect some minority of individuals. and that raises the danger to everybody.

    >> congresswoman?

    >> i absolutely agree. you know, since i've been in congress, i've seen over the last several years the deterioration of working with each other. it's really a shame, because many of us, republican and democrat, do work together. we actually get legislation passed working together. we still go by the old way of compromise. but when you listen to the words of some of my colleagues that are inflammatory, i mean it's something that goes out there. look at these politicians. i mean just in the last past week, a few of my colleagues came out with statements on other people, which are absolutely not true.

    >> and it's -- unfortunately it's kind of a bipartisan deterioration. chief, this will come down to something that michael chertoff mentioned a couple minutes ago, better detection of people like this. there's also just a heartfelt reaction that people have which is, wow, are we safe even in movie theaters for a movie premiere . to the extent that there is an overreaction here about kind of a security clampdown, does that make any difference?

    >> we are safe, that's the reality, safe from terrorism, safe from these events. there are 300 million of us. and while we all feel for this event, reality is 300 million people did not experience it. the tragic irony of this and the continuation of these types of incidents, and they will continue, is that the outrage is expressed against the perpetrator and the act, is not then reflected in the part of the general public about wanting to do something about the instruments that are used to kill so many, the guns. all the polls i've seen recently indicate that the american population is following the political leadership who are missing in action , most of them on this issue, by increasingly being in favor of, if you will, relaxing of gun laws . isn't that the tragic irony out of this. the more of these we have, seemingly, we have less interest in trying to focus on trying to control some of it in terms of some type of effort to control guns.

    >> right. and of course the opposite view would be to emphasize that these guns were purchased legally and that we have to focus on the


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