Gun control after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, multiple gun laws were proposed in the United States at the federal and state levels. The shooting renewed debate about gun control. The debates focused on requiring background checks on all firearm sales (called universal background checks), and on passing new and expanded assault weapon and high-capacity magazine bans.
On December 14, 2012, twenty children and seven adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It was the deadliest primary or secondary school shooting, the third-deadliest mass shooting by a single person, and one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
Within hours of the shooting, a We the People user started a petition asking the White House to "immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress," and the gun control advocacy group the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reported that an avalanche of donations caused its website to crash. That afternoon, President Barack Obama made a televised statement offering condolences on behalf of the nation to Connecticut governor, Dannel Malloy and saying, "we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics." Speaking at a December 16 memorial service in Newtown, Obama said he would "use whatever power this office holds" to prevent similar tragedies. By December 17, the White House petition had more than 150,000 signatures, and one week after the shooting it had almost 200,000, along with those on 30 similar petitions.
A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted days after the shooting showed "mixed results" regarding public opinion on firearm laws. While public support for strengthening gun laws rose 15 percent compared to a similar poll in 2011, there had been "little change in attitudes about some longstanding proposals, including the outlawing of assault rifles." A law requiring background checks for all gun-show sales was favored by 92 percent of Americans and a law banning the sale and possession of high-capacity magazines (defined by the poll as those capable of holding more than 10 rounds) was supported by 62 percent of Americans. A record-high 74 percent opposed a ban on handguns and 51 percent opposed banning assault weapons.
White House actions
On December 19, 2012, President Obama announced the formation of an inter-agency gun-violence task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden. The task force held 22 meetings and collected ideas from 229 organizations.
The NRA and congressional Republicans said that violent video games were a large part of the problem, but those did not end up on the final list of recommendations. After meeting with Biden, the NRA issued a statement saying that it was "disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment."
On January 16, 2013, President Obama announced a plan for reducing gun violence in four parts: closing background check loopholes; banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; making schools safer; and increasing access to mental health services.:2 The plan included 23 executive actions, signed immediately by the president, and 12 proposals for Congress.
The executive actions signed by President Obama were:
- Issuing a presidential memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
- Addressing unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), that may prevent states from making information available to NICS.
- Improving incentives for states to share information with NICS.
- Directing the attorney general to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
- Proposing a rule making to give law enforcement authorities the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
- Publishing a letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
- Starting a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
- Reviewing safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
- Issuing a presidential memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
- Releasing a report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and making it widely available to law enforcement authorities.
- Nominating an ATF director.
- Providing law enforcement authorities, first responders and school officials with proper training for armed attacks situations.
- Maximizing enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
- Issuing a presidential memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research gun violence.
- Directing the attorney general to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun safety technologies and challenging the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
- Clarify that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
- Releasing a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
- Providing incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
- Developing model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship, and institutions of higher education.
- Releasing a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
- Finalizing regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within insurance exchanges.
- Committing to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
- Starting a national dialogue on mental health led by Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education.
The White House's proposed congressional actions were these:
- Requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, including those by private sellers that currently are exempt.
- Reinstating and strengthening the federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 (AWB 1994) that expired in 2004.
- Limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
- Banning the possession of armor-piercing bullets by anyone other than members of the military and law enforcement.
- Increasing criminal penalties for "straw purchasers" who pass the required background check to buy a gun on behalf of someone else.
- Acting on a $4 billion administration proposal to help keep 15,000 police officers on the street.
- Confirming President Obama's nominee for director of the (ATF).
- Eliminating a restriction that requires the ATF to allow the importation of weapons that are more than 50 years old.
- Financing programs to train more police officers, first responders and school officials on how to respond to active armed attacks.
- Provide additional $20 million to help expand the system that tracks violent deaths across the nation from 18 states to 50 states.
- Providing $30 million in grants to states to help schools develop emergency response plans.
- Providing financing to expand mental health programs for young people.
Advocacy groups actions
On December 21, 2012 – between the formation of Biden's task force and the announcement of Obama's proposals – Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), expressed the gun-rights group's sympathy for the families of Newtown. LaPierre said that gun-free school zones attract killers, and that "the media demonize lawful gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws, and fill the national media with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action." He said, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," and that debating legislation that won't work would be a waste of time. He called on Congress "to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation" so that every school in America would be safe when pupils returned to school in January 2013. LaPierre announced that the NRA would develop a National Model School Shield Program for every American school that wants it.
After LaPierre's press conference, the Brady Campaign asked for donations to support its gun control advocacy and asked NRA members "who believe like we do, that we are better than this" to join its campaign. On January 8, 2013, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot and injured in a 2011 shooting in Tucson, launched Americans for Responsible Solutions to raise money for gun control efforts to counter the influence of powerful pro-gun groups such as the NRA.
Proposed assault weapons ban
On January 24, 2013, Senator Dianne Feinstein and 24 Democratic cosponsors introduced S. 150, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 (AWB 2013). It was similar to the expired 1994 federal ban, but differed in that it used a one-feature test for a firearm to be considered an assault weapon, rather than the two-feature test of the 1994 ban. Gun-control advocates said the stricter test would make the weapons less appealing to gun enthusiasts. In addition, it would have banned:
- the sale, transfer, importation or manufacture of about 150 named firearms;
- firearms with "thumbhole stocks" and "bullet buttons";
- the importation of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines;
- and large-capacity ammunition feeding devices (defined as those capable of holding more than 10 rounds).
It would have grandfathered in weapons legally owned on the day of enactment and exempted 2,258 specific firearms "used for hunting or sporting purposes," of which only 33 were semiautomatic centerfire rifles.
On March 14, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill, though it was not expected to clear the full Senate or the House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to leave the proposed ban out of the broader gun control bill, saying that it was unlikely to win 40 votes in the 100-member chamber and that it would jeopardize more widely supported proposals. On the morning of April 17, 2013, the bill failed on a vote of 40 to 60. It was supported by Democrat Reid and Republican Senator Mark Kirk, but 15 Democrats, one independent, and all the Republicans except Kirk voted against the ban.
Proposed universal background checks
The Manchin-Toomey Amendment was a bi-partisan piece of legislation that would require background checks on most private party firearm sales, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. The amendment, S.Amdt. 715 to S. 649, was voted on and defeated on April 17, 2013 by a vote of 54–46. It needed 60 votes to pass.
In the early morning hours of April 4, 2013, the Connecticut General Assembly passed new restrictions to the state's existing assault weapons ban. Governor Dannel Malloy signed them into law later the same day. The law banned the sale or purchase of magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition like those used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and required universal background checks for all firearm purchases.
Gun owners challenged the law, but federal judge Alfred Covello upheld the law, ruling it constitutional and writing, "While the act burdens the plaintiffs' Second Amendment rights, it is substantially related to the important governmental interest of public safety and crime control." Gun owners said they would appeal.
In February 2014, the Hartford Courant reported that Connecticut had processed about 50,000 assault weapons certificates, but that anywhere from 50,000 to 350,000 remained unregistered. "And that means," wrote the Courant's Dan Haar, "as of Jan. 1, Connecticut has very likely created tens of thousands of newly minted criminals — perhaps 100,000 people, almost certainly at least 20,000 — who have broken no other laws." Frank Miniter wrote in an April 2014 Forbes op-ed "that more than 300,000 Connecticut residents decided not to register their 'assault weapons,' moved them out of state, or sold them."
In January 2013, New York became the first U.S. state to act after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act passed in the state Senate 43-18 on January 15 and cleared the New York State Assembly after about five hours of debate on Tuesday, January 16. It was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo one hour later. The act expanded the definition of assault weapons banned in New York, created a state database for pistol permits, reduced the maximum number of rounds legally allowed in magazines to seven from ten, and required universal background checks on all gun sales.
A dozen Republican conference members voted for the measure, but its Senate Republican leader did not attend the signing ceremony. The NRA called the assembly's actions "a secretive end run around the legislative and democratic process ... with no committee hearings and no public input," and said the law was "draconian."
In a related move, the state comptroller announced that the state's pension fund would freeze its investments in publicly traded firearm manufacturers. The fund's holdings in Smith & Wesson had been sold in December, after the Connecticut shootings.
Provisions of the SAFE Act have been challenged. On December 31, 2013, a federal court judge struck down the act's limit of seven rounds in magazines capable of holding 10, but upheld its expanded ban on assault weapons. As of April 2014 that decision was under appeal, and another challenge, that the bill was improperly fast-tracked, was dismissed by a trial-level judge. The plaintiff said that he will take that decision to the New York Court of Appeals.
Non-compliance with this new law has been reported in New York. Frank Miniter wrote in an April 2014 Forbes op-ed that one million residents own "assault weapons" and "high-capacity magazines" (which he says are political terms). He wrote that many had decided to practice civil disobedience and not register their weapons, a class A misdemeanor with a potential sentence of one year in prison. USA Today reported that some owners threatened not to register their weapons, and that some chose to bypass registration by modifying or selling them before the April 15 deadline. State police say they cannot report how many people have registered. By law, they must keep their database of assault weapon owners private.
Late on April 4, 2013, the Maryland General Assembly passed Governor Martin O'Malley's gun control bill, the Firearm Safety Act of 2013. It bans the purchase of 45 types of assault weapons and limits gun magazines to 10 rounds. It requires handgun licensing and fingerprinting for new gun owners, and bans those who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility from buying a gun.
- Barron, James (December 15, 2012). "Children Were All Shot Multiple Times With a Semiautomatic, Officials Say". New York Times. New York Times Company. Retrieved April 12, 2014.
- Effron, Lauren (December 14, 2012). "Mass School Shootings: A History". ABC News. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- Candiotti, Susan; Ford, Dana (December 16, 2012). "Connecticut school victims were shot multiple times". Cable News Network. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- CNN Library (October 26, 2013). "25 Deadliest Mass Shootings in U.S. History Fast Facts". Cable News Network. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- Bruce, Mary (December 14, 2012). "Petition Calls on White House to Address Gun Control". ABC News.
- Wing, Nick (December 17, 2012). "White House Gun Control Petition Becomes Site's Most Popular Ever". Huffington Post. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- New, Catherine (December 14, 2012). "Anti-Gun Donations Surge After Connecticut Shooting". The Huffington Post. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
- Barack Obama (December 14, 2012). President Obama Makes a Statement on the Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut (video). Washington, D.C.: WhiteHouse.gov. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- Landler, Mark; Baker, Peter (December 16, 2012). "'These Tragedies Must End,' Obama Says". New York Times. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- Levy, Gabrielle (December 21, 2012). "Obama responds to gun violence petition" (blog). United Press International. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- Madhani, Aamer (December 26, 2012). "Gun control poll shows mixed results". USA Today. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- Saad, Lydia (December 27, 2012). "Americans Want Stricter Gun Laws, Still Oppose Bans". gallup.com. Gallup Inc. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- Tapper, Jake; Dwyer, Devin; Bruce, Mary (December 19, 2012). "President Obama Launches Gun-Violence Task Force". ABC News. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
- Rucker, Philip; Wallsten, Peter (January 19, 2013). "Biden's gun task force met with all sides, but kept its eye on the target". Washington Post. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
- Madhani, Aamer (January 10, 2013). "NRA blasts Biden's gun task force after meeting". USA Today. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
- "Now Is the Time". whitehouse.gov. The White House. January 16, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- "Now Is the Time: Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions" (PDF). whitehouse.gov. The White House. January 16, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- MacAskill, Ewen; Pilkington, Ed (January 17, 2013). "NRA promises 'fight of the century' over Obama's bold gun control plan". Guardian. Guardian News and Media Ltd. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- "What's in Obama's Gun Control Proposal". New York Times. January 16, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- Horwitz, Sari (January 16, 2013). "NRA planning 'the fight of the century' against Obama". Washington Post. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- Meckler, Laura; Nicholas, Peter; Nelson, Colleen McCain (January 16, 2013). "Obama's Gun Curbs Face a Slog in Congress". Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- LaPierre, Wayne (December 21, 2012). "Remarks from the NRA press conference on Sandy Hook school shooting, delivered on Dec. 21, 2012 (Transcript)". Washington Post. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- Connor, Tracy; Isikoff, Michael (December 21, 2012). "Disbelief in some quarters after NRA calls for armed guards at every school, blames movies". NBCNews.com. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
- "Gabrielle Giffords launches gun control campaign". BBC. January 8, 2013. Retrieved June 16, 2014.
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rev. Gary Hall, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy et al. (January 24, 2013). Assault Weapons Ban Bill (video). Washington, D.C.: National Cable Satellite Corporation. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- Freedman, Dan (January 24, 2013). "Feinstein offers new assault weapons ban". Houston Chronicle. Hearst Newspapers. Retrieved April 14, 2014.
- Kucinich, Jackie (January 24, 2013). "Democrats reintroduce assault weapons ban". USA Today. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
- Chebium, Raju (January 24, 2013). "Feinstein wants public's help to pass assault weapons ban". NEWS10. Gannett Washington Bureau.
- Author unknown (December 26, 2012). "Summary of 2013 Feinstein Assault Weapons Legislation". Two-page summary of bill points from four weeks before it was introduced to Senate. Unpublished.
- Steinhauer, Jennifer (March 14, 2013). "Party-Line Vote in Senate Panel for Ban on Assault Weapons". New York Times. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
- "Senate committee approves assault weapons ban". foxnews.com. Fox News Network. March 14, 2013.
- Simon, Richard (April 17, 2013). "Senate votes down Feinstein's assault weapons ban". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
- Warren, James (April 17, 2013). "Sen. Dianne Feinstein says Daily News 'SHAME ON U.S.' front page 'carries the message' of assault weapons ban". New York Daily News. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
- "Senate Vote 101 - Rejects Feinstein Proposal to Reinstate Assault Weapons Ban". ProPublica. Pro Publica Inc. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
- Lengell, Sean (April 24, 2013). "Leaks hurt gun control bill, Sen. Pat Toomey says". Washington Times. Retrieved August 17, 2013.
- Korte, Gregory; Camia, Catalina (April 17, 2013). "Obama on Senate gun vote: 'A shameful day'". USA Today. Retrieved April 17, 2013.
- Hartmann, Margaret (April 3, 2013). "Post-Newtown, States Passed More Gun-Rights Laws, Not Restrictions". New York Magazine. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
- "Connecticut Governor Signs Gun Measures". New York Times. Associated Press. April 4, 2013. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
- Mungin, Lateef; Brady, Britanny (April 4, 2013). "Connecticut governor signs sweeping gun measure". Cable News Network. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
- Pazniokas, Mark (January 30, 2014). "Federal judge upholds Sandy Hook gun law". Connecticut Mirror. Connecticut News Project. Retrieved April 10, 2014.
- Haar, Dan (February 10, 2014). "Dan Haar: Untold Thousands Flout Gun Registration Law". Courant. Hartford, Connecticut: Hartford Courant. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
- Miniter, Frank (April 13, 2014). "As Many As One Million Armed New Yorkers Are About To Break The Law". Forbes (op-ed). Retrieved April 16, 2014.
- Seiler, Casey (January 16, 2013). "New gun law offers reply to mass killings: State becomes the first in the nation to act after horror of Newtown, Conn". Times Union. Albany, New York: Hearst Corporation. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
- Spector, Joseph (December 31, 2013). "Federal court upholds N.Y. ban on assault weapons". USA Today. Gannett Albany Bureau. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
- Klepper, David (April 16, 2014). "Judge upholds New York's tougher gun law". Times Union. Hearst Corporation. Associated Press. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
- Campbell, Jon (April 13, 2014). "Deadline leaves N.Y. gun owners with a choice". USA Today.
- Jackson, Alex (April 5, 2013). "Maryland lawmakers send landmark gun control bill to O'Malley's desk". Annapolis, Maryland: CapitalGazette.com. Archived from the original on April 7, 2013. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
- Feinstein, Dianne (January 24, 2013). "S. 150: Assault Weapons Ban of 2013". govtrack.us.
- Cook, Philip J.; Goss, Kristin A. (2014). The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-933898-6.
- DeBrabander, Firmin (2018). Audio book: Do Guns Make Us Free? Democracy and the Armed Society. Yale University Press. ASIN: B07CGH7R79