How the assault weapons ban has been assaulted

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Bianca Jagger (4th L) and the Rev. Jesse Jackson (4th R) walk in the Million Mom March May 9, 2004 in Washington, DC. Activists marched down Constitution Avenue to kick off a national campaign to save America's assault weapons law, which is scheduled to expire in September. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Bianca Jagger (4th L) and the Rev. Jesse Jackson (4th R) walk in the Million Mom March May 9, 2004 in Washington, DC. Activists marched down Constitution Avenue to kick off a national campaign to save America's assault weapons law, which is scheduled to expire in September. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Eight states permit guns in bars, and Missouri allows intoxicated people to carry firearms.  Kansas allows concealed weapons in K-12 schools, while Virginia repealed a law requiring gun sellers to submit sales records, and ordered previous sales records destroyed.  In Louisiana, the law allows gun enthusiasts to pack heat in church, while Utah permits allows people under a felony indictment to purchase a gun, and those charged with a violent crime to carry a concealed gun. Further, Nebraska allows people who have pled guilty to a violent crime to carry a weapon.

According to a 2011 report from the Violence Policy Center, while the NRA positions itself as the representative voice of gun owners, in reality the organization is bankrolled by the firearms manufacturing industry and corporate America.  Since 2005, corporate partners have contributed as much as $52.6 million through the NRA corporate giving program.  Nearly three-quarters of that amount, or $38.9 million, were from the firearms industry.  22 of NRA’s corporate partners are gun manufacturers, with 12 producing assault weapons.  Xe—the military contractor formerly known as Blackwater that was implicated in the murder of Iraqi civilians— has contributed between $500,000 and $999,999 to the NRA.

In August 2009 George Sodini, a Pittsburgh resident and concealed gun permit holder who participated in the NRA’s corporate partners program, opened fire at an LA Fitness Center in Collier, Pennsylvania.  He killed three people and wounded nine others before taking his own life.

Gun control advocates are concerned that once elected officials have issued platitudes to the families of victims of gun violence, they will retreat into silence and refuse to take action on flawed gun laws that allow mass shootings to occur.

“If we’ve reached a point where our children cannot attend school without fear of being gunned down by a homicidal maniac who has obtained easy access to firearms, then the freedom we cherish as citizens of the world’s greatest democracy is at risk of extinction,” the Washington-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) said in an official press statement on the Connecticut shooting.

The CSGV criticized elected officials for failing to speak out and call for gun control, and accused them of allowing NRA contributions and threats to dictate their votes.

“After today’s horror, Americans must demand immediate action by our President and Congress to reform our gun laws. This must include legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales, strengthening those background checks (particularly in terms of mental health and substance abuse screening), and renewing the ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines,” the group added. “We expect President Obama—as a man who has seen first hand the devastation that gun violence inflicts on families and communities during his time as a volunteer in Chicago—to be a leader in this process and to speak out boldly and directly.”

The NRA declined to comment on the Sandy Hook school tragedy “until the facts are thoroughly known.”  But Larry Pratt of the gun advocacy group Gun Owners of America said that “Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered.”  He added: “This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun free zones is to ensure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun.”

The U.S. is no stranger to gun violence, with the assassinations of high-profile figures such as President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X etched into historical memory.  With around 300 million guns in private hands, nearly one gun for every citizen, America is the most heavily armed nation per capita.  Each year, over 100,000 Americans are shot with guns, and 30,000 are killed due to homicide, suicide and accidental death.  According to the Harvard School of Public Health, people are at a higher risk of homicide in areas with a higher concentration of firearms.  States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths.

In addition, mass shootings are not a rare occurrence.  Since the expiration of the federal assault weapon ban, the number of shooting per year has doubled, and the number of people shot in mass killings has nearly tripled.  There have been 19 mass shootings in five years, a rate of one every four months.  Seven of these have occurred this year alone, while five of the twelve deadliest gun massacres in U.S. history took place during Obama’s first term.

Of the 61 mass shootings Mother Jones examined since 1981, 80 percent of the perpetrators obtained the weapons legally.  More importantly, at least 38 had shown signs of mental health problems before the killings.  These incidents occur more frequently in the U.S., which accounts for 11 of the worst 20 mass shootings in the past 50 years.

Meanwhile, as the public waits to see if recent events will become the catalyst for a new wave of gun control reforms, pressure mounts on the president and lawmakers to take action.  For example, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the majority of Americans, including gun owners and NRA members, favor common sense gun control laws.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D, New York) has called for a war on the NRA, which in his opinion is the “enabler of mass murderers.”  Rep. John B. Larson, a Connecticut Democrat, has called for federal legislation requiring background checks for all gun purchases, and banning assault rifles and high-capacity clips.  Moreover, on the first day of the new Congress Democrats plan to introduce an assault weapon ban.

But it remains to be seen whether President Obama, nearing his second term in office and unencumbered by reelection, is willing engage in full-scale warfare with the NRA.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove