WASHINGTON — The contentious battle over gun control continued Tuesday in the Senate, offering little hope for consensus as the discussion quickly broke down along party lines.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., called the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the legality of gun control measures. Despite testimony from legal experts on both sides of the argument, senators were not swayed. Questioning remained in lock step with the positions Democrats and Republicans have already staked out.
There has never been any evidence “that gun control laws minimize gun violence,” insisted Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s questioning showed the opposite assumption. The California Democrat is the author of the controversial assault weapons ban.
Congressional immobilization on the issue casts doubt on President Barack Obama’s assertion that action will be taken this year to limit access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Public visitors included victims of gun violence and their families — guests who will be watching the president’s State of the Union speech from the House Gallery with Michelle Obama and Democratic lawmakers. Their buttons read “Demand a Plan.”
The partisanship sparring on the subcommittee cast new doubt on the viability of a bill to require universal background checks, legislation many observers say has the best chance of passing.
“Is there any effort to enforce existing federal gun laws?” Sen. Orrin Hatch R-Utah asked one of the witnesses, U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy from West Virginia. His question echoed Republican talking points since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn.—the U.S. does not need new laws, it just needs to enforce the ones already in place.
Heaphy said that existing laws were far too weak to make a difference, but Hatch failed to acknowledge the attorney’s rebuke in further questioning.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., personified the lack of evolution on this issue when he questioned the witnesses with the same arguments, even identical anecdotes, that he used at a hearing almost a month ago.
Much time was spent on legal precedent set by the Supreme Court, but the committee also invited victims of gun violence to speak.
“I love the law, I respect it, but I would like to talk about life,” Sandra Wortham said. Her brother, a Chicago police officer, was killed in 2010 when armed gang members attempted to steal his motorcycle.
Her brother and her father were armed at the scene, Wortham said, but that did not protect Thomas E. Wortham IV, then 30. There are many gun owners in her family, and she said that the proposed legislation should be no threat to law-abiding citizens.
“I value and respect the rights provided by our Constitution,” she said. “However, I find it hard to believe that our founders would allow those rights to go so unreasonably unchecked.”
Despite the stalemate, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is expected to introduce gun control legislation later this month.