Lamar Smith Nixes Gun Safety Hearings

WDCPix/Rep. Lamar Smith/<a">Lauren Victoria Burke</a>

For gun rights advocates, plans to push for new gun control laws in the wake of the Tucson shootings smack of political opportunism. A top House Republican, meanwhile, has spiked the idea of even holding hearings on gun safety issues, claiming they could unfairly bias the jury in the trial of alleged shooter Jared Loughner.

Politico reports that Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and the 15 other Democrats on the House Judiciary committee sent a letter on Friday to committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) requesting hearings on gun-safety issues related to the tragedy that killed six and wounded 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

Democrats like Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), who’s introduced a gun safety bill, want to see the ban on high-capacity clips restored (supposedly a priority for the Obama administration). If still in place, the ban might have lessened the scale of the tragedy in Tucson. Democrats have also suggested that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which includes records for felons, the mentally ill, and drug users, is missing some 1.6 million names, and needs a serious overhaul.

In the letter, the Democrats write:

We fully recognize and appreciate the sensitivity of the subjects raised by the recent tragedy in Tucson in which our colleague, Gabrielle Giffords, was shot and eighteen other were wounded or killed, including members of her staff, a Federal judge, and several other citizens. However, we also believe it is not only possible, but imperative that Congress review the relevant issues in a civil and objective [manner].

Loughner is widely assumed to suffer from mental problems. Smith told Politico that that holding hearings before his trial could have the “unintended effect of prejudicing the ongoing criminal proceedings,” and points out that Loughner hasn’t yet been found to be mentally ill. Holding hearings on the NICS “that presume otherwise,” he says, is inappropriate.