January 26, 2013

Rally a call to action on limiting guns

Marchers, many of them moved by the Newtown tragedy, travel to D.C. to demand laws to save lives.

By BRETT ZONGKER The Associated Press

Thousands of people, many holding signs with names of gun violence victims and messages such as "Ban Assault Weapons Now," joined a rally for gun control on Saturday, marching from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.

Gun Control March
click image to enlarge

Marchers supporting gun control walk from the U.S. Capitol down the Mall in Washington on Saturday. Some signs, like the one at lower left, bore names of victims of gun violence.

The Associated Press

MANY FIREARMS DON'T FIT NEATLY INTO CATEGORIES

Here is a primer on some key terms in the debate over guns:

SEMI-AUTOMATICS

There are all sorts of semi-automatics -- they can be pistols, rifles or shotguns -- and they're popular sellers. They fire a bullet each time the trigger is pulled, with no need to manually move the next round into the firing chamber.

That means they can fire again as fast as a person can release and pull the trigger, so long as the gun's got more ammunition at the ready. Semi-automatic weapons are popular with hunters, sport shooters and gun enthusiasts.

The sale and manufacture of some semi-automatics deemed to be "assault weapons" was banned for a decade. That law expired in 2004.

The shooters used semi-automatic rifles in the Colorado movie theater attack in July that killed 12 people and injured 70 and in the slaying of 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school in December.

FULL AUTOMATICS

They're on the battlefield and show up in action movies, but fully automatic weapons aren't common among U.S. civilians.

Full automatics range from Prohibition-era machine guns to modern rifles, pistols or shotguns.

Sales of full automatics are restricted by federal law -- buyers need a special permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That requires an extensive background check and paying a $200 tax. Some states and local governments prohibit private ownership of full automatics.

ASSAULT WEAPONS

In 1994, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law a ban on some semi-automatic rifles and handguns that were deemed "assault weapons." Defining the term was tricky then and remains controversial today.

Under that now-expired law, some new guns were banned by name, including the Uzi, the AK-47 and the Colt AR-15, which is similar to the military's standard issue M16.

The law also covered other semi-automatic rifles that are used with detachable magazines -- devices that hold ammunition and feed the bullets into the firing chamber automatically. Such rifles were banned only if they had two or more additional characteristics listed in the law, such as a folding stock or a pistol grip. Manufacturers could skirt the ban by producing similar guns under new names or making minor design changes, such as removing a bayonet mount.

President Obama says he wants Congress to ban what he calls "military-style assault weapons," but he hasn't defined the term.

The 1994 law wouldn't have covered the Bushmaster .223 rifles used in the Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., shootings, had it still been in place. The old law did apply to another aspect of those shootings -- high-capacity magazines.

-- The Associated Press

Leading the crowd were marchers with "We Are Sandy Hook" signs, paying tribute to victims of the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Washington Mayor Vincent Gray and other city officials marched alongside them. The crowd stretched for at least two blocks along Constitution Avenue.

Participants held signs reading "Gun Control Now," "Stop NRA" and "What Would Jesus Pack?" among other messages. Other signs were simple and white, with the names of victims of gun violence.

About 100 residents of Newtown, where a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators, traveled to Washington together, organizers said.

Participant Kara Baekey from nearby Norwalk, Conn., said that after the Newton shootings she decided she must take action.

"I wanted to make sure this never happens at my kids' school or any other school," Baekey said. "It just can't happen again."

Once the crowd arrived at the monument, speakers called for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition and for universal background checks on gun sales.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the crowd it's not about taking away Second Amendment gun rights, but about gun safety and saving lives.

He said he and President Obama would do everything they could to enact gun control policies.

"This is about trying to create a climate in which our children can grow up free of fear," Duncan said. "This march is a starting point; it is not an ending point. We must act, we must act, we must act."

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s non-voting representative in Congress, said the gun lobby can be stopped, and the crowd chanted back, "Yes, we can." "We are all culpable if we do nothing now," Norton said.

James Agenbroad, 78, of Garrett Park, Md., carried a handwritten sign on cardboard that read "Repeal the 2nd Amendment." He called it the only way to stop mass killings because he thinks the Supreme Court will strike down any other restrictions on guns.

"You can repeal it," he said. "We repealed Prohibition."

Molly Smith, the artistic director of Washington's Arena Stage, and her partner organized the march. Organizers said that in addition to the 100 people from Newtown, buses of participants traveled from New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia. Others flew in from Seattle, San Francisco and Alaska, they said.

While she's never organized a political march before, Smith said she was compelled to press for a change in the law.

The march organizers support Obama's call for gun control measures. They also want lawmakers to require gun safety training for all buyers of firearms.

"With the drum roll, the consistency of the mass murders and the shock of it, it is always something that is moving and devastating to me. And then, it's as if I move on," Smith said. "And in this moment, I can't move on. I can't move on.

"I think it's because it was children, babies," she said. "I was horrified by it."

After the Connecticut shootings, Smith began organizing on Facebook.

The group One Million Moms for Gun Control, the Washington National Cathedral and two other churches eventually signed on to co-sponsor the march. Organizers have raised more than $50,000 online to pay for equipment and fees to stage the rally, Smith said.

Lawmakers from the District of Columbia and Maryland rallied the crowd, along with Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund and Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre.

Goddard said he was shot four times at Virginia Tech and is motivated to keep fighting for gun control because what happened to him keeps happening -- and nothing's been done to stop it.

"We are Americans," he said, drawing big cheers. "We have overcome difficulties when we realize we are better than this."

Smith said she supports a comprehensive look at mental health and violence in video games and films.

But she said the mass killings at Virginia Tech and Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., all began with guns.

"The issue is guns. The Second Amendment gives us the right to own guns, but it's not the right to own any gun," she said. "These are assault weapons, made for killing people."

 

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