WASHINGTON — Two Democratic lawmakers took on the hot-button political issue of gun control Monday, introducing legislation that would effectively ban online ammunition sales.
Longtime gun control advocates Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey, and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-New York, introduced the bill that they said would prevent buyers from purchasing unlimited quantities of ammunition through the Internet or through the mail. The bill would also require ammunition dealers to report bulk ammo sales to law enforcement.
"It's time to close the loophole that's allowing killers -- deranged, insane -- and even terrorists to buy ammunition online," Lautenberg said Monday at a news conference on the steps of Manhattan's City Hall. "You don't have to be a scientist to understand how wrong this is."
The lawmakers pointed to the Colorado mass shooting earlier this month, where police in Aurora said movie shooting suspect James Holmes purchased more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition online.
On Monday, Holmes was charged with 24 counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of 12 people who had packed a screening of the latest Batman movie that began shortly after midnight on July 20. Fifty-eight people were injured in the incident.
"When you buy a gun on the Internet, you have go to a store to pick that gun up," McCarthy said. "Well if you're going to be buying these kinds of large amounts of ammunition, you know what? Somebody should see your face."
Democratic strategists see gun control as political dynamite. Many Democrats blame Al Gore's 2000 presidential election loss on his failure to win conservative states, an outcome they said was due in part to Gore's push for gun control.
And many members of Congress admittedly do not want to run afoul of the powerful and well-funded National Rifle Association.
Last week, Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, who represents a pro-gun congressional district, told CNN the NRA "carries with it a threat ... that if you speak against any point of gun control, you automatically face a political threat."
In fact, the Democratic-led Senate has not voted on any gun legislation in three years, since defeating a 2009 GOP measure that would have required states to recognize each other's gun laws.
President Barack Obama on Thursday made his strongest comments yet on the issue, advocating a "common sense" approach to gun control that would prevent a "mentally unbalanced individual" from obtaining assault weapons. But he treaded carefully and did not push for new gun laws.
"I, like most Americans, believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual the right to bear arms," Obama said. "But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals."
Lautenberg and McCarthy's proposed Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act would require ammunition buyers who are not licensed dealers to present photo identification at the time of purchase, effectively banning the online or mail order purchase of ammo by regular civilians. It also requires licensed ammunition dealers to report the sale of more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition to an unlicensed person within any five consecutive business days.
Lautenberg recognized that changing gun laws is a challenge.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who controls the Senate's agenda, said Thursday, "With the schedule we have, we're not going to get into the debate on gun control."
House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday that existing laws should be enforced. "AK-47s, all right, are not allowed to be in the hands of criminals. That is the law," he said.
Nonetheless, Lautenberg said he thinks the bill's chances are "pretty good."
"It's going to be acted upon next week, and we're very optimistic," Lautenberg said.