When President Barack Obama called on Congress to renew the assault rifle ban last week, he had a specific gun in mind. "The type of assault rifle used in Aurora, for example, when paired with high-capacity magazines, has one purpose," Obama said, referring to the ubiquitous military-style AR-15: "To pump out as many bullets as possible as quickly as possible; to do as much damage using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage."
He's not the only person who views the semi-automatic rifle as little more than an instrument of warfare. "The only civilians who 'need' an AR-15 assault rifle are those who want to commit mass murder," CNN host Piers Morgan tweeted on Sunday. "That's what they do. #killingmachines."
On Monday of last week, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) announced that if President Barack Obama attempted to enact new gun violence prevention measures through executive order, he would have no choice but to file articles of impeachment. By Tuesday, he was comparing Obama to Saddam Hussein for using children as props at a speech introducing a gun control package. By Wednesday, he had stepped back from the precipice, asserting that "impeachment is not something to be taken lightly." After all, where did anyone get that idea?
This is the way it has always been with Steve Stockman: Light a fire; add some potassium nitrate; then stand back and gawk at the crater.
The Texas congressman, who is three weeks into his second term after a 16-year hiatus from the House, is almost certainly the only member of Congress to have been caught with 30 mg of valium hidden in a cellophane wrapper in his underwear. He's defended militia groups; accused an attorney general of "premeditated murder"; appeared on a Holocaust-denying radio program; waged a one-man war against Alfred Kinsey; compared his constituents—favorably—to Branch Davidians; and traveled to Denmark to protest climate change while wearing a red blindfold. The man who bested his 2012 opponent by 44 points isn't the most ballyhooed of incoming lawmakers. He's just the nuttiest.
Actress Ashley Judd and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
The surest sign yet that Ashley Judd might actually run for Senate? She's starting to talk like she might actually run for Senate. On Saturday, the actress and activist told guests at the Bluegrass Ball in Washington, DC that she was "certainly taking a close look" at challenging Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2014. She didn't, however, answer a Politico reporter's question about gun control legislation—a subject that other red-state Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Montana Sen. Max Baucus have also avoided. So on Sunday, I put the question to her again at a brunch reception for EMILY's List, the organization dedicated to support pro-choice female Democratic candidates.
Judd didn't take the bait: "I really enjoyed—I was very proud of the Vice President's role on that," she said. "I liked the consultation and the full voice of people across the spectrum of opinions and ideology about it. I thought focusing in particular on video game creators was important. And I hope that there will be buy-in."
Thus concluded the Mother Jones Ashley Judd interview. Of course, the biggest hint that Judd is seriously considering a run might just be how she exited the brunch EMILY's List brunch—carpooling with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.):
When University of Texas Law School student Cody Wilson published a YouTube video last month of an AR-15 he'd made with the assistance of a 3D-printer, Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) sprang into action. He announced new legislation (actually a reauthorization of the 1988 Undectable Firearms Act, which expires at the end of the year) that he said would "stop so-called 'wiki-weapons.'" As I reported at the time, Wilson's response was fairly understated. He believed his plan to make and test guns made with printed plastic parts—and then post all of the instructions online—was legally sound, and had no intention of backing down.
Last week, Wilson published a new video. This time, his AR-15 is outfitted with a different printed plastic component—a 30-round magazine, the same kind President Obama proposed outlawing in his new gun control package. Take a look:
When Charlton Heston said the federal government could take his guns from his "cold, dead hands," he was referring to the ATF.
Driven to act by last month's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama on Wednesday called on Congress to pass new laws banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and targeting gun traffickers, and he announced 23 steps his administration is taking to better enforce existing law. With Republicans threatening to block any legislation—and some extreme GOPers calling for impeachment if Obama acts alone—reform, as could be expected, will not be easy.
But should Obama gets what he wants, he'll face another major challenge: his own Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Over the last three decades, gun activists and lawmakers have purposefully hindered the ATF and carefully molded the agency that enforces gun laws to serve their own interests, stunting the ATF's budget, handicapping its regulatory authority, and keeping it effectively leaderless. The bureau Obama is counting on to lead his gun control push is a disaster…by Republican design.
The problems are obvious. The agency that Obama said "works most closely with state and local law enforcement to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals" has the same of number of agents as the Phoenix Police Department. Its budget has barely budged in decades (as the Department of Homeland Security has grown flush with post-9/11 funding). It has fewer investigators than it did in 1973. And its acting (and part-time) director, B. Todd Jones, commutes to work from Minneapolis, where he works full-time as a US attorney. It hasn't had a permanent director for six years. The NRA blocked Obama's earlier appointee, Andrew Traver, in part because Traver had once attended a meeting of police chiefs that focused on gun control. At the unveiling of his gun violence prevention package, Obama announced he would seek to make Jones the permanent (and presumably fulltime) chief of the ATF.
To understand how the ATF became the weakest of law enforcement agencies, you have to go back to President Ronald Reagan's first term.
The 1968 Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, the first major piece of gun control legislation since the Capone days, led the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division of the Department of the Treasury to sprout a third responsibility: handguns. With the market for moonshine collapsed—due to a global spike in sugar prices—the division's primary investigative responsibility for most of its history withered. The new mandate to regulate arms sales filled the void. It also made the bureau a natural foil for the nascent gun lobby, and the NRA, whose leadership was fast transitioning from a moderate coalition of sportsmen to a band of true believers, went to work to make the agency a pariah.