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Las Vegas attack puts gun control back in the spotlight

Following Sunday’s massacre in Las Vegas, the always uncomfortable subject of gun control is back in the spotlight.

Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol, Democrats called for tightening America’s gun laws. Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona, herself shot and badly wounded by a gunman, spoke out.

“Stopping gun violence takes courage. The courage to do what’s right. The courage of new ideas,” Giffords said.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein also introduced a bill that would ban the sale and possession of bump-stock equipment that turns semiautomatic weapons into automatic ones. Officials say multiple bump stocks were found in the hotel room used by the Las Vegas shooter.

Feinstein has long pushed for tougher gun laws, saying what happened in Vegas could have happened to anyone.  Feinstein authored a 2013 assault weapons ban bill which died in the Senate. A nationwide assault weapons ban that was on the books was not renewed by Congress back in 2004.

“My own daughter was going to go,” the California Senator said. “I have an e-mail from her. She was going to go with neighbors, and they for one reason or another, both families decided they wouldn’t. They were going to stay at that hotel. That’s how close it came to me.”

Republicans say it’s too soon to discuss changing gun laws. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is worried about politicizing the Vegas killings. But House Speaker Paul Ryan is talking about what he thinks is a critical ingredient in combating mass shootings.

“One of the things we’ve learned from these shootings is often underneath this is a diagnosis of mental illness,” Ryan said on Tuesday.

After the shooting, the White House said the country should not to pass frivolous laws that ultimately do not help stop massacres. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pointed to Chicago, saying the city has the strictest gun laws in the country.

“I think if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country,” said Huckabee Sanders. “That certainly hasn’t helped there. So, I think we have to, when that time comes for those conversations to take place, then I think we have to look at things that may actually have a real impact.”

Chicago does not have the strictest gun laws in the nation. For 28 years, Chicago did ban handgun ownership, but in 2010 the Supreme Court found the ordinance unconstitutional. The city is now a concealed-carry municipality. But there are restrictions. For instance, military-style assault weapons are banned in Chicago, and state law requires a person buying a firearm to produce a valid firearms owner’s ID card. Even with the restrictions, Chicago still has staggering murder totals. 762 homicides last year and already more than 500 this year.

Following the White House’s comments about Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on the Trump administration to “take responsibility and accountability for something” following the shootings. Chicago officials say Washington must help crackdown on straw purchases, the act of someone with a clean record purchasing multiple guns and trafficking them into the city.

In the debate over how to stop mass shootings, gun control supporters point to Australia. Thirty-five people were killed and 23 wounded in Port Arthur, a former prison colony and popular tourist site in Tasmania, Australia. Following the incident, which was the deadliest mass shooting in that nation’s history, Australia significantly tightened its gun control laws.

Since then, there have been no mass killings in Australia. In the United States there have more than 270 mass shootings this year alone. The rate of gun violence in the U.S. is not the highest in the world, but it is an outlier among rich western countries. For example, our firearm homicide rate is 16 times that of Germany.