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Hand guns on display at a gun shop.
The recent massacre in Newtown, Connecticut has reignited the gun control debate in the United States to a height rarely seen, but whether or not the debate will result in any legislative action remains to be observed. The shooting is only the most recent of a string of horrific incidents of gun violence spanning back to the 1999 Columbine shootings. In 2007, 32 people were killed in a mass shooting at Virginia Tech; 13 were fatally shot at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas in 2009; a killing spree in Arizona last year resulted in six deaths; and 12 lives ended in a movie theater in Colorado earlier this year.
Despite the fact that mass shootings have become more frequent and more deadly, popular support of gun rights has actually increased, according to Pew Research Center polls. Additionally, background checks for gun purchases have nearly doubled to 16.8 million in the last decade, according to the FBI.
Now, elected leaders across the country, including President Obama, are calling for change. Following his promise on Friday of “meaningful action,” Obama on Sunday night said, "In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens -- from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators -- in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this," while speaking at a prayer vigil in Newtown. California Senator Dianne Feinstein pledged Sunday to introduce new gun-control legislation at the beginning of next year’s congressional session, while speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Despite their very public condemnations and insistence for stricter gun control, few politicians have been specific about how new laws will effectively prevent tragedies like the one in the Newtown.
Do we need more extensive background checks? Is a reinstitution of the federal assault weapons bans needed? Or would an increased waiting period to obtain firearms help stop mass shootings?
Adam Winkler, Constitutional law professor at UCLA; author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America (2011); writer for The Huffington Post & Daily Beast
Chuck Michel, Attorney for the National Rifle Association, Author of a new book, "California Gun Laws: A guide to state and federal firearm regulations"
Ben Van Houten, Staff Attorney, Legal Community Against Violence based in San Francisco