Gun control future remains uncertain


On April 17, the Senate failed to pass several comprehensive amendments that aimed to modify the current gun control policies.
Reuters referred to the Senate vote as a “crippling blow” to President Barack Obama’s campaign to curb gun violence and a difficult day for previously optimistic proponents of gun control reform as the Senate rejected a plan to expand background checks for gun buyers.
Shy of the 60 votes needed, a 54-46 vote struck down the plan to extend background checks for online and gun show sales.
President Obama rebuked those calling this a victory in a statement following the vote, saying, “A victory for what? All that happened today was the preservation of the loophole that lets dangerous criminals buy guns without a background check.” Obama asked, “Victory for not doing something that 90 percent of Americans, 80 percent of Republicans, the vast majority of your constituents wanted to get done? It begs the question, who are we here to represent?”
The Manchin-Toomey background check amendment drafted by Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-West Virginia) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) garnered support from both sides of the aisle. Bipartisan compromises in the amendment included the prohibition of a national gun registry and a background check exemption for private sales and gifts between family and friends.
Though it initially was endorsed by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), support was withdrawn at the last minute. CCRKBA — which calls itself the second-largest gun rights organization in the country — claims to have 650,000 members and supporters, which is second only to the NRA.
“Our support for this measure was contingent on several key provisions, the cornerstone of which was a rights restoration provision that is not on the schedule for consideration,” said CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb in a statement following the withdrawal.
“We cannot, in clear conscience, continue to support a measure that will not include this critical relief component. If Democrats like (New York Sen. Charles) Schumer thought we could be flimflammed on this, they were wrong.”
In addition to the background check expansion, the plan to limit the size of ammunition magazines drew only 46 votes in support.
All Senate amendments require a 60-vote minimum to clear administrative obstacles.
In spite of the recent support for gun control reform in the wake of the shootings in Newtown and Aurora, the nation still remains relatively divided over the matter of policy change. According to a Gallup poll conducted this past January, 51 percent of Americans are in some way dissatisfied with the United States’ current gun policies. Of those 51 percent, 38 percent believed that policies should become stricter.
According to Reuters, “The influence of the gun culture and the gun lobby was clear when an NRA-backed plan to allow gun owners with permits to carry concealed weapons across state lines also failed to reach the 60-vote threshold — but earned more votes (57) than the background checks amendment.”
In addition to the concealed carry plan, the Republicans also sponsored Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley’s plan, which focused on gun crime prosecution, improving mental health records for gun owners and funding better school safety measures. Consistent with the trend, the 52-48 Senate vote rejected the proposal.
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said of Grassley’s measure, “Rather than restricting the rights of law-abiding Americans, we should be focusing on keeping guns out of the hands of violent criminals, which this legislation accomplishes,” according to Reuters.
In the wake of these decisions, the matter of gun control in the United States seems to remain a deep-seated issue in American culture, as David Brooks, a criminologist with the University of Texas, told NPR. For now, it seems the issue is essentially dead. “I really don’t think there will be electoral consequences. I just think, especially in red states, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, all the political pressure is to oppose these gun control measures. It has been and remains sort of a cultural issue,” Brooks said.
On the state level, Texas’ Legislature has also been looking to modify current gun policies. The state legislative library lists 110 bills currently filed pertaining to weapons in the Legislature. According to the Huffington Post, “Texas is one of several states to consider loosening its gun laws since the Newtown, Conn. shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead.”
The Center for American Progress released a report earlier this month that ranked Texas 14th in the nation in terms of aggravated assaults committed with a firearm per capita, and 19th in firearm homicides.
On April 4, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed a comprehensive gun control package into law, and the following day, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) stated in an open letter, “Recent draconian gun legislation passed in Colorado, Connecticut and Maryland has made those states unfriendly to law-abiding gun owners, weapons manufacturers and weapons parts manufacturers.”
“These states have proven they do not value those who obey the law and pump millions of dollars into local economies. This is not the way for government to treat people,” Stockman stated. “Come to Texas! Your rights will not be infringed upon here, unlike many local current regimes.”
Texas politicians have a fervent voice among the national discourse concerning citizens’ rights to keep and bear arms. One of the key points of this discourse is the issue of concealed carrying of handguns. The Huffington Post reported, “Indeed, protection is now the top reason gun owners cite for having a firearm, a new survey shows, a figure that has nearly doubled since 1999.” The report stated, “With Americans split over whether guns more often save lives or jeopardize them, researchers have long parsed surveys of crime victims done in the 1990s, arguing over what the numbers mean.”
According to data compiled by the FBI, the rate of violent crimes including murder and assault fell by nearly half from 1992 to 2011, while the rate of reported property crime dropped 41 percent.
The elevated interest that gun owners exhibit towards self-defense is paired with a statistical decrease in violent crimes, according to Mark Warr, a University of Texas criminologist. “Americans don’t know that the crime rate has been going down,” Warr told the Huffington Post.
Warr attributed the shaping of public perceptions to television crime dramas and news reports focusing on the most violent offenses. “What happens is that people watch this dangerous image of the world and they buy into the idea that the world is a really, really dangerous place.”
A significant part of current state Legislation filed to modify gun control laws pertains to the carrying of concealed handguns on college campuses.
Of the seven bills pertaining to concealed carry on college campuses presently filed in the current legislative session, HB 972, authored by Rep. Allen Fletcher (R), is the farthest along. According to the Legislative Reference Library, Fletcher’s bill is currently out of committee and is waiting to be scheduled for a vote.
UTSA freshman and SGA Sen. Lucas Lostoski supported a resolution this past January to endorse state legislation allowing concealed handguns on college campuses. However, the resolution failed to garner enough support as an 8-21 vote ultimately kept it from passing. Lostoski stated, “I can see why people are worried… I believe with common-sense gun control comes the elimination of gun-free zones which invites people to come kill because (these people) go to a place where they know people will be unarmed to commit these acts of violence.”
English professor Mark Bayer told the Paisano that he sees the prospect of weapons on campus as “scary and dangerous and would really jeopardize the safety of both students and faculty and anyone else at the university.”
r the current statute, carrying a concealed weapon on an institution of higher education is a third degree felony punishable by a term of two to 10 years in prison and an optional fine not to exceed $10,000. This puts Texas among the 21 states that ban firearms on campus.
In 2011, concealed handgun license (CHL) owners accounted for about 0.1884 percent of violent crime committed in the state. UTSA police officer Jonathan Pfaff stated that while “it doesn’t bring much fear to me, the thought of having handguns (on campus)… If we really got into a bad situation on campus, I don’t think it would be such a bad idea if someone in a classroom that was a student knew how to handle it.”
Officer Pfaff also stated that the legislative dollars would “probably be better spent on finding a way to increase the University Police Department’s budget because of the fact that officers are trained to handle these types of situations.” He went on to state that officers undergo five months of training while CHL holders only attend a weekend long certification class.
“I don’t believe handguns belong on college campuses,” said mechanical engineering alumni Matthew Bynum. “That being said, I see it as a waste of time and money to pass legislature in favor or against since the ultimate outcome wouldn’t be noticeably different either way.”
In contrast, senior English major Katy Almond said, “The potential of a student carrying a gun in class would be enough to possibly deter someone from committing a violent act on campus.”
A 2012 report by the Cato Institute, a public policy research organization, found that after Colorado passed legislation allowing universities to individually decide whether they allowed concealed carry, there was an unexpected effect on crime rates. Colorado State University decided to allow concealed weapons, while the University of Colorado prohibited them. The report determined that while Colorado State University had a 60 percent decrease in crime since 2004, the University of Colorado had a 35 percent increase over the same time period.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, in 2011, about 524,000 Texans were CHL holders. In 2012, that number rose to 584,850.
Additionally, applicants between the ages of 18 – 25 accounted for about 6 percent of issued licenses in 2011, which means that concealed carry laws have potential to directly affect students.
HB 972 would need to be voted on prior to May 27 when the 83rd state legislative session ends and the bill, if passed, would become effective Jan. 1, 2014.