During his interview with Piers Morgan on CNN this Thursday evening, Mitt Romney doubled down on his assertion that changing the gun laws would not have made any difference in the Aurora massacre. While we can't stop every crazy person out there who wants to harm their fellow citizens, as Think Progress noted this week, there are things the Congress can do which would limit the amount of gun violence.
Here are five ideas for legislation Congress could enact to help limit gun violence:
1. Regulate ammunition sales. “Everything that the [Colorado theater shooting] suspect did was legal,” says Andy Pelosi of States United to Prevent Gun Violence, “Which is scary, that you can acquire that type of firepower. I think we need to take a hard look at ammunition sales.” Currently, criminals can legally get their hands on high-capacity gun magazines and armor-piercing bullets over the Internet. Such ammunition is not needed for hunting, and unnecessary for nearly any exercise in self defense. In fact, as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pointed out, those bullets are most dangerous for police officers. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has committed to reintroducing legislation that would regulate such ammunition clips.
2. Increase mental illness reporting. After the horrible shooting at Virginia Tech, the state changed the structure of reporting mentally ill patients to the gun registry, including those who seek outpatient mental health services instead of just those who have been committed. Just four years out from when the law was passed, the number of mentally ill people who are blocked from obtaining a firearm in Virginia doubled. Other states haven’t been so vigilant. In fact, many states are incredibly slow to report even those mentally ill people who check in for inpatient services.
3. Background checks, every time. Gun law advocates know that the shooting in Colorado isn’t an isolated incident. Pelosi told ThinkProgress that “30 people are killed a day from guns, and many of those are purchased illegally.” Mayor Bloomberg has called on legislators to close loopholes regarding background checks, especially at gun shows. The gun show loophole and private sale loophole allow people to circumvent the regular requirements to check on the mental health and criminal record of gun purchasers. Only 17 states have such laws in effect (Colorado is one — they closed the loophole by ballot initiative in 2000), but Congress has taken no federal action to follow suit.
4. Restrict mail-order sales, step-up reporting. From 1968 until 1986, ammunition was regulated, and the mail order sale of bullets was illegal. Then, the NRA lobbied to have the law changed. When the Mcclure Volkmer Act passed, mail order sales were legalized, record-keeping requirements were repealed, and ammunition was deregulated. That was before the Internet age anonymous online ordering. Now, someone can purchase 6,000 rounds of ammunition in just a “few keystrokes.” The alleged gunman in Colorado never came face-to-face with a salesman when he bought his bullets and ballistic gear. However, a gun range owner described a “bizarre” encounter over the phone with the suspect that prompted the man to bar him from using the gun range. In the age of Internet anonymity, there are less opportunities for someone to monitor erratic behavior or sense ulterior motives.
5. Ban assault weapons. The alleged gunman in the Aurora theater used a gun that, until 2004, was illegal. That’s when Congress allowed the assault weapons ban to expire, opening the market up for military-style assault firearms. Such military-style guns (the Aurora gunman’s is the civilian equivalent to the military’s M-16) are designed to be concealed. They also have a much higher ammunition capacity. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has called on her colleagues to reinstall this ban.
Left to their own devices, people with severe mental troubles who want to hurt others will usually find a way to do so. The government will never be able to prevent every incident, every place in the country from happening every time. But there are certainly ways that the government is able to limit the loss of life, help the troubled perpetrators, and ensure that psychopaths cannot have absolute free reign — all without taking away the right of an average, sane citizen to own a firearm.
Transcript of Romney repeating the NRA's talking points on CNN below the fold.
MORGAN: You're a man known for compromise. For doing deals. Getting stuff done. Not getting overly irrational about issues. You've done it in your business career. You've done it in your political career.
The big issue in America right now is guns. And we had this appalling shooting on Friday at Aurora in Colorado. The worst single shooting in the history of the United States. And the usual debate, the one that I've heard since I've been in America, flare up every time these things happen. There should be tighter laws.
I'll be honest with you. I'm disappointed when nothing happens each time. You know, as I think Mayor Bloomberg put it to me, what does it take to change things? You've had a congresswoman shot in the head and nearly assassinated. Seventy people killed in a movie theater. Hit and wounded and killed in a movie theater. Terrible things happen.
What does it take to change the gun culture? To mean a change in the law isn't a contentious issue?
M. ROMNEY: Well, I think the idea that somehow if you had a law saying that guns were going to be regulated in some way that that would end gun violence, why, there might be some merit to having that discussion. But the truth is, there's no particular change in law that's going to keep people who are intent on doing harm from doing harm.
The governor of Colorado who's a Democrat said, look, gun laws aren't going to keep evil people from doing evil things.
MORGAN: No, but shouldn't a political leader be the one that says actually we're going to do whatever it takes to make it as difficult as possible? That's what we do with terrorism. The whole fight against terrorism. It's waged on making it as hard as possible for terrorists to do anything. You just try and cut the loopholes down.
I -- here we are in Britain. So I can talk about this without feeling it's not my country. And we have very strict gun laws here. And we have very few gun murders. Fifty maybe on average a year. Japan has almost no guns and has almost no gun murders.
America now has 300 million guns in circulation and has the highest murder rate with guns of any of the so-called rich civilized countries. The reaction on Friday was no politician called for stricter laws. But 43 percent spike in Colorado in local people wanting to arm themselves with more weapons.
It can't go on like that, can it?
M. ROMNEY: Well, we do have a Second Amendment. And I respect the right of people to bear arms for any legal purpose. You say that we have 300 million guns, saying somehow guns are illegal and try to collect 300 million guns would be lunacy, fallacy, a folly. That's not going to happen. That's not going to happen to our country. People have a right to be able to bear arms. The real question is, what things can we do, to do as you say, prevent the kinds of tragedy from occurring that we saw? And the answer there is to find people who are distressed and deranged and evil and do our very best to find them, to cure them, to help them, to keep them from being able to do harm to one another --
MORGAN: But this guy, James Holmes, the shooter in Aurora, he wouldn't have been picked up by anything. He had no history of mental illness. He had no history of criminality. I think a driving offense of some sort. He was able to walk in -- this is what I find staggering. Buy four weapons, including this assault rifle. Then on the Internet, thousands of rounds of ammunition. And a gun cartridge which could hold 100 bullets, which enabled him to fire at 70 people in a matter of a minute or two.
And I say, where is the movement now by political leaders in America to mean that there can't be another guy who can do that as easily?
M. ROMNEY: Piers, there was a guy in Norway that went up and shot how many students? Seventy students? They have very strict gun laws in Norway. But that doesn't keep the person from doing what happened in Norway because saying to a deranged person, you're breaking the law, isn't going to keep them from doing terrible things and hurting people.
We of course have all sorts of laws against bombs and making bombs. But this individual had bombs in his apartment. If he didn't have a gun, he'd have used a bomb. The idea that somehow the instrument of violence, if one can make it illegal, would keep a person from doing something illegal, I just don't think is a policy that actually will be successful.
MORGAN: I mean the final point I'd make on this is when you're governor of Massachusetts, you did extend a ban on these kind of assault weapons because you did feel there was a qualitative difference between shooting and hunting and the guns you need for that, and having guns where the only capability appears to be mass killing.
M. ROMNEY: Actually in Massachusetts we had the pro-gun lobby and the anti-gun lobby come together and fashion a bill that both thought was a -- was an advance. It provided more rights for hunters and the capacity for them to carry out hunting throughout the state. So it's supported by both sides of the debate. That's one reason why I was able to support that.
MORGAN: But President Obama last night in a speech made a big speech which looked on the face of it he's getting credit for this. Looked like he was moving to change things. But actually when you study the detail, hard to find a specific "We should change this law."
If he called you up and said, look, we need to get together in the wake of this, as I say, the worst ever shooting, we need to get together, do a compromised deal that just makes it more difficult for people like this to evade the system, would you at least, in principle, be happy to have that conversation?
M. ROMNEY: Piers, I don't support new gun laws in our country. We have a lot of gun laws now. We have background checks and other restrictions on gun ownership in our country. But as you say, we have 300 million guns in America. We have a Second Amendment that protects the right of people to bear arms. I support that. I think that the effort to continue to look for some law to somehow make violence go away is missing the point.
The real point has to relate to individuals that are deranged, distressed, and to find them, to help them, and to keep them from carrying out terrible acts.
Timothy McVeigh. How many people did he kill? With fertilizer? With a -- with products that can be purchased legally anywhere in the world. He was able to carry out vast mayhem. Somehow thinking that laws against the instruments of violence would make violence go away I think is misguided.