Gun debate update

January 27, 2013 at 08:00 PM

Leading Democrat: Gun control faces uphill climb

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who’s leading the push to restore an assault weapon ban, acknowledged on Sunday that the effort faces tough odds to pass Congress and she blamed the nation’s largest gun-rights group.

Feinstein, D-Calif., on Thursday introduced a bill that would prohibit 157 specific weapons and ammunition magazines that have more than 10 rounds. The White House and fellow Democrats are skeptical the measure is going anywhere, given lawmakers who are looking toward re-election might fear pro-gun voters and the National Rifle Association.

“This has always been an uphill fight. This has never been easy. This is the hardest of the hard,” Feinstein said.

“I think I can get it passed because the American people are very much for it,” Feinstein said of the measure that follows a similar measure she championed into law 1994 but expired a decade later.

She acknowledged, however, the NRA’s political clout.

“They come after you. They put together large amounts of money to defeat you,” Feinstein said.

She also said the group was a pawn of those who make weapons.

“The NRA is venal. ... The NRA has become an institution of gun manufacturers,” she said.

The NRA disputed her characterization.

“The NRA is a grass-roots organization. We have more than 4 million dues-paying members and tens of millions of supporters all across this country. Our political power comes from them. Decent and logical people would understand that,” spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to take up the proposal on Wednesday and hear from the NRA’s CEO and senior vice president, Wayne LaPierre. Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in an assassination attempt, also plans to testify.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2012, said Congress should focus on the causes of violence and not the weapons alone.


Gun demand drives investors into market

HOUSTON (AP) — Recent acts of gun violence and talk of stricter laws have translated into increased purchases by gun enthusiasts and people worried about safety — but also investors stockpiling weapons and counting on supply and demand to drive up prices even higher.

As weapons stores report shortages and high demand, several people told the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/UuPUVS) they bought assault rifles and ammunition clips with the hope that their value will go up.

Allen Blakemore, a Houston-based political consultant, said he borrowed from his children’s college fund to buy 200 high-capacity ammunition magazines.

“At this point, it is economics,” he said. “I certainly don’t need that many. It becomes an opportunity to buy something at one price and sell it at a higher price.”

Blakemore said he doesn’t know when he’ll sell the magazines, which some politicians want to outlaw. In three months, the magazines had gone from $15 apiece to about $75.

“You ever play the stock market?” Blakemore said. “You ride the stock up and at some point you say, ‘I don’t know what is going to happen, I am going to go ahead and sell.’”

Corpus Christi engineer Lee Brandon said he sold a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle last year to fund a trip to the state Republican Party convention. He’s now trying to buy another AR-15 rifle, but they are delayed for several months.

“As it turns out, that was a big mistake,” Brandon said.


Closer Look-Mental Health

By SARA BURNETT

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — As lawmakers debate ways to prevent another mass shooting, Illinois mental health advocates say more attention — and money — must be directed to a system they describe as overwhelmed and ill-equipped to identify or care for the mentally ill, including someone intent on carrying out a violent act.

Between 2009 and 2012, Illinois slashed funding for community mental health programs by more than 30 percent — more than all but three other states, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Even before those cuts, Illinois’ per capita spending on mental health was about $85 — well below the national average of about $123 per person, the group found.

The funding situation has made it difficult, if not impossible, for people who aren’t in crisis or eligible for Medicaid to enter the system, says Lora Thomas, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Illinois.

And while there’s no way to predict when a tragedy like the recent shootings in Connecticut and Colorado might occur — or even if the perpetrator will be someone with a mental illness — the lack of resources in Illinois makes it less likely a mental health provider could intervene.

“We absolutely know the system in Illinois is so broken there is no community-based system that could catch or prevent it,” Thomas said.

Dr. Lorrie Jones, director of the state Division of Mental Health, doesn’t consider the system broken. But she said the state’s budget crisis means mental health — like a lot of other programs — is “challenged.”

“We’ve had to make some unfortunate changes,” Jones said.

Gov. Pat Quinn emerged from a recent school safety summit saying the state must “do everything possible” to prevent violence, including looking at mental health in schools and the community. Many of the offenders in mass shootings have had behavioral issues or mental illness.

“We have to, I think, take a look at our resources in Illinois at the local and state level, and redouble our efforts to make sure we have proper mental health for all those who need it,” Quinn said.

Providing those services has been difficult amid Illinois’ severe budget crisis, said Abdon Pallasch, Quinn’s assistant budget director. As lawmakers have failed to resolve the state’s multibillion-dollar unfunded pension liability, less and less money has been available for other programs. That’s made pension reform even more urgent, Pallasch said.

Quinn’s administration also has focused on transitioning people with mental illness and disabilities from institutional settings into community care — transfers they say are both better for individuals and less costly. They are looking to components of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, including a health insurance exchange and expansion of Medicaid eligibility, to expand access to mental health care. But those measures first require action by the Legislature.

Mental health advocates are hopeful Quinn’s recent comments are an indication he won’t seek further reductions when he proposes his next budget in March. They say they’ve had to fight in the General Assembly to avert cuts Quinn proposed the past two years.

Lawmakers currently are seeking legislative approval for $12 million they say was supposed to be appropriated this year but wasn’t because of a budgeting error. Without the funds, more than 1,000 people with mental illness will lose housing. Providers — many of which already are waiting months to be paid for their work — will have to rely even more on private fundraising.