The deadly shooting at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's political event in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday is re-energizing gun control advocates. But Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said he fears there will be little legislative response from Congress.
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), whose husband was killed and son was injured in a 1993 shooting on the Long Island Rail Road, took on the challenge on Sunday, promising to introduce gun control legislation as soon as Monday.
"My staff is working on looking at the different legislation fixes that we might be able to do and we might be able to introduce as early as tomorrow," McCarthy told Politico.
For Helmke, such Congressional initiative is refreshing. Usually "politicians turn a blind eye to this," said Helmke of gun control issues. "They'll talk about violent video games, or they'll talk about rhetoric -- they'll talk about anything except guns. My main hope with this shooting is that maybe now we'll finally start to talk about the intolerable level of gun violence in this country."
In an interview with The Huffington Post on Sunday, Helmke said he first met Giffords when she was elected to Congress in 2006. Giffords is a strong supporter of gun-ownership rights under the Second Amendment, and Helmke said he'd had the opportunity to discuss the issue with her. "She considered herself pro-Second Amendment, but she realized that not everyone should be able to have any kind of gun and be able to take it anywhere," said Helmke.
In 2008, when Arizona Democrats were divided over the landmark D.C. gun ban case District of Columbia v. Heller, Giffords, who reportedly owned a Glock handgun at the time, called gun ownership a constitutional right and an "Arizona tradition," spokesman C.J. Karamargin said at the time.
"She sees both sides of the gun issue and tries to find a common sense approach to things," Helmke added. "Having known her -- it hurts."
The Brady Campaign, the nation's largest gun-control organization, is named after President Ronald Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady, who was shot in the head while serving Reagan nearly 30 years ago. The resulting legislation passed by Congress in 1993, The Brady Handgun Violence Act, required federally licensed dealers to complete comprehensive background checks on individuals before selling them a gun.
"When people realize how few laws there are and how easy it is to get guns, it shocks them," said Helmke. "At the federal level there are basically only three sets of laws that deal with guns."
Helmke cited the The National Firearms Act of 1934, which restricted access to machine guns, as well as The Gun Control Act of 1968, passed after Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were shot, which bans gun ownership by anyone who "has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution." He also cited the Brady Bill of 1993.
While Helmke remains hopeful that Saturday's tragedy will help rally support for stronger gun control legislation, some members of Congress don't think that will happen.
In an interview on Fox News on Sunday, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) told anchor Bret Baier they think guns laws are unlikely to be reformed based on this incident:
BAIER: Senator Coons, do you think this incident will reignite efforts by gun control advocates to push for revision in gun laws?
COONS: I do think we need to responsibly enforce the existing gun laws that place barriers for those who are mentally unstable to gun ownership or gun use. I think, frankly, that we need to move forward toward the biggest challenges in front of us, making sure we get Americans back to work, tackling our deficit and our debt, dealing with the conflict in Afghanistan.
There are big challenges right in front of us, and frankly think that's what Congress needs to be focused on.
BAIER: Senator Paul, Arizona is one of three states where you can carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Alaska and Vermont are the other two. Is that at all in jeopardy, do you think?
PAUL: No, I don't think so. Interestingly, Representative Giffords was a defender of the Second Amendment and is a defender of the Second Amendment. So no, I don't think that plays into this at all. Really, I think they are unrelated.
It's probably about a very sick individual and what should have been done for that person. But the weapons don't kill people. It's the individual that killed these people.
Nearly 100,000 people are shot in the U.S. every year, according to the Brady Campaign website.
HuffPost has compiled a slideshow highlighting seven of the most significant events in the federal gun control debate -- which event do you think had the greatest impact?
on March 30, 1981, President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady, was shot in the head.
The Brady Handgun Violence Act of 1993, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, mandated that federally licensed dealers complete comprehensive background checks on individuals before selling them a gun. The legislation was named for James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, instituted a ban on 19 kinds of assault weapons, including Uzis and AK-47s. The crime bill also banned the possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. (An exemption was made for weapons and magazines manufactured prior to the ban.)
In 2004, ten years after it first became law, Congress allowed a provision banning possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition to expire through a sunset provision. Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke told HuffPost that the expiration of this provision meant that Rep. Gabby Giffords's alleged shooter was able to fire off 20-plus shots without reloading (under the former law he would have had only ten).
In 2007 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled to allow Dick Heller, a licensed District police officer, to keep a handgun in his home in Washington, D.C. Following that ruling, the defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
Following the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech University, Congress passed legislation to require states provide data on mentally unsound individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, with the aim of halting gun purchases by the mentally ill, and others prohibited from possessing firearms. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in January of 2008.
In June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a lower court ruling the D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional in the landmark case District of Columbia v. Heller.
Gun control advocates had high hopes that reform efforts would have increased momentum in the wake of two tragic events that rocked the nation. In January of 2011, Jared Loughner opened fire at an event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), killing six and injuring 13, including the congresswoman. Resulting attempts to push gun control legislation proved fruitless, with neither proposal even succeeding in gaining a single GOP co-sponsor. More than a year after that shooting, Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was gunned down by George Zimmerman in an event that some believed would bring increased scrutiny on the nation's Stand Your Ground laws. While there has been increasing discussion over the nature of those statutes, lawmakers were quick to concede that they had little faith the event would effectively spur gun control legislation, thanks largely to the National Rifle Association's vast lobbying power. Read more here:
In July of 2012, a heavily armed gunman opened fire on theatergoers attending a midnight premiere of the final film of the latest Batman trilogy, killing 12 and wounding scores more. The suspect, James Eagan Holmes, allegedly carried out the act with a number of handguns, as well as an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine. Some lawmakers used the incident, which took place in a state with some of the laxest gun control laws, to bring forth legislation designed to place increased regulations on access to such weapons, but many observers, citing previous experience, were hesitant to say that they would be able to overcome the power of the National Rifle Association and Washington gun lobby.
On August 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page opened fire on a Sikhs gathered at a temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding four more before turning the gun on himself.