Lawmakers Propose New Gun Laws: Can They Prevent Another Newtown?

PHOTO: President Barack Obama walks off stage after delivering a speech at an interfaith vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 at Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn.

Could new laws prevent another mass shooting like the one that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School?

That's the question many are asking in the aftermath of the gut-wrenching massacre that left 27 victims dead, including 20 children.

President Barack Obama appeared at an interfaith memorial service in Newtown, Conn. on Sunday where he sought to comfort the victims' families. He also signaled that he could take action to implement policies designed to prevent mass shootings, saying that he" will use whatever power this office holds" to convene with law enforcement, educators, mental health experts, and others to find the right answers.

"We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change," he said.

Obama did not specify whether he was referring to gun-control laws, mental health reforms, or something else. But his comments were widely judged as an indication that he would seek new measures that tamp down on the availability of weapons that make it easier to carry out mass shootings. That would be a significant move for a president who has rarely spoken about the need for more gun control despite the occurrence of five mass shootings during his first term.

A handful of lawmakers have floated a raft of gun-control related legislation that they want to see passed in the next Congress. Here is a look at some of the proposals and whether they would be effective.

Assault Weapons Ban

Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and others have called for the re-institution of the federal assault weapons ban, which outlawed the manufacture and sale of certain semiautomatic firearms for civilian use. The law was enacted in 1994, but expired in 2004. Feinstein said Sunday she would look to bring up an assault weapons ban in Congress next year.

Even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a pro-gun rights lawmaker who once used a rifle to shoot at climate change legislation in a campaign ad, said Monday on MSNBC that "I don't know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle."

President Barack Obama called for the renewal of the assault weapons ban during his second debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney in October.

Shooter Adam Lanza, 20, used a .223-caliber semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle at close range to kill children inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. An official described the rifle as Lanza's primary weapon, according to ABC News.

But according to The Wall Street Journal, it is not clear whether the rifle used in the Newtown shooting had characteristics that would have made it illegal under the previous assault weapons ban.

In a detailed post on the 1994 assault weapons ban, Brad Plumer explains that the manner in which the law defined "assault weapons" was very complex, leaving the law full of loopholes. It outlawed 18 types of firearm models that possess military-style features. That meant that similar weapons to those covered in the assault weapons ban remained legal to make and purchase as long as they did not possess certain cosmetic aspects, such as a pistol grip and bayonet mount.

The original ban had "mixed" results in reducing the use of banned guns by criminals, according to a 2004 University of Pennsylvania study. Gun-rights advocates see those results as evidence that assault weapons bans are not effective in reducing crime, saying that murders have dropped even after the ban was lifted.

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