Giffords surprise witness as Congress talks guns
Giffords surprise witness as Congress talks guns
The nation’s most powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, was set to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose divided members reflect the wider debate that gun limits will face on a path through Congress that promises to be difficult.
Obama this month proposed a package that includes banning military-style assault weapons, requiring background checks on all firearms purchases and limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
The US has the world’s highest rate of gun ownership, and gun sales have jumped since the Connecticut shooting as some fear that the government will take their guns away. The Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, but some argue that the country’s founding fathers more than two centuries ago couldn’t have foreseen the speed and power of today’s weapons.
A surprise witness Wednesday will be Gabrielle Giffords, a former congresswoman who was shot in the head while meeting with constituents in 2011. The attack left six dead and 12 wounded. A Senate aide said Giffords is not expected to answer questions. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because Giffords’ appearance had not been announced.
Giffords, a gun owner, and her husband, Mark Kelly,have formed a political action committee called Americans for Responsible Solutions to back lawmakers who support tighter gun restrictions and counter the influence of the NRA, which is known to punish lawmakers who stray from its point of view.
The NRA also has led past efforts to block stricter gun regulations, and it has promised to do it now.
In testimony prepared for Wednesday’s hearing but released Tuesday, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said gun control measures had failed in the past. He instead expressed support for better enforcement of existing laws, stronger school security and better government’s ability to keep guns from mentally unstable people.
LaPierre’s statement had a milder tone than recent NRA remarks, including a television ad that called Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for voicing doubts about the NRA proposal of armed guards in every school in the country while his own children are protected that way at their school. While Obama’s children have Secret Service protection, officials at their school have said its own guards don’t carry guns
Even if gun control proposals make their way through a Congress that is already busy with immense fiscal issues and immigration, some law enforcement authorities at the local level have already threatened not to enforce them in sympathy for gun owners.
The chairman of the panel, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, said closing loopholes in the background check system for gun purchasers won’t threaten firearms owners’ Second Amendment rights to own a gun and is a matter of common sense. In a prepared statement for the hearing, Leahy said it’s time to stop sloganeering and partisan recriminations on the subject.
By law, anyone buying a gun from a licensed dealer must have a background check, with convicted criminals and people with mental problems barred from purchases. Gun buyers at gun shows and online don’t need the check.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated that whatever the committee produced wouldn’t necessarily be the final product, saying the package would be debated by the full Senate and senators would be allowed to propose “whatever amendments they want that deal with this issue.”
It remains unclear whether those advocating limits on gun availability will be able to overcome resistance by lawmakers from states where gun ownership abounds. Question marks include not just many Republicans but also Democratic senators facing re-election in Republican-leaning states in 2014.
Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Judiciary Committee member, has already introduced her own legislation banning assault weapons and magazines of more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch said he would listen to proposals and agreed that reviewing the issue was timely. “But I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” he said Tuesday, “and I don’t intend to change.”
Knowing that television cameras would beam images of the hearing nationally, both sides were urging supporters to attend Wednesday’s session.
A page on an NRA-related website urged backers to arrive two hours early to get seats, bring no signs and dress appropriately. The liberal BoldProgressives.org urged its members to attend, saying the NRA “will try to pack the room with their supporters to deceive Congress into believing they are mainstream.”
The Connecticut shooting has also set off a national discussion about mental health care, with everyone from law enforcement leaders to the gun industry urging policymakers to focus on the issue as a way to help prevent similar attacks. The issue of mental health also has come up in last year’s mass shooting at a Colorado theater last year and at Virginia Tech in 2007, which remains the deadliest school shooting in the country’s history.
“Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals,” LaPierre said in his statement for his testimony Wednesday. “Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families.”
Man killed in random knife attack at California steakhouse
- The victim was dining with his family when the suspect came and stabbed him without warning
- Police say suspect is a felon who had been convicted for burglary and unlawful sexual intercourse since the 1990s
LOS ANGELES: A homeless man who randomly stabbed a patron in a crowded Southern California restaurant to death as he was holding his daughter was reported just a few hours earlier for disruptive behavior, but police ultimately determined he was not a threat, authorities said Saturday.
Jamal Jackson, 49, is facing a first-degree murder charge in the death of 35-year-old Anthony Mele. He was being held in Ventura County jail on a $1.5 million bail. It was unclear if Jackson, who is also a convicted felon, had an attorney to speak on his behalf.
Mele and his wife were eating dinner with their 5-year-old daughter Wednesday at Aloha Steakhouse in the seaside city of Ventura. The girl was sitting on her father’s lap when prosecutors say Jackson walked up and stabbed Mele in the neck.
Prosecutor Richard Simon said customers and a restaurant employee followed Jackson out of the restaurant, even though he still had the knife. They kept track of him until Ventura police arrived and arrested him.
Mele was taken to a hospital and died Thursday after being taken off life support.
“It’s horrible,” Simon said. “You don’t think you’re going to be killed when you go out to dinner at a nice restaurant with your family and you didn’t do anything.”
Simon said the two men had not interacted before the attack.
“He was just sitting there with his daughter in his lap,” Simon said. “You’re not supposed to die that way.”
Mele’s loved ones started a GoFundMe page to help raise money for a funeral and to support his wife and daughter.
Mele’s Facebook page was filled with photos of his daughter and said he was a manager at an AT&T store.
Police confirmed that a bystander reported a man — who turned out to be Jackson — for disruptive behavior several hours before the stabbing.
According to the bystander, a man was yelling on the promenade not far from the beachside restaurant about three hours before the attack.
Patrol officers were out on other calls so command center staff monitored the man via a pier security camera system for more than 20 minutes before deciding he didn’t seem to be a threat, police said.
Police are asking anyone who spoke with Jackson during that time to contact investigators in the city 70 miles (113 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles.
Jackson also had half a dozen contacts with police in Ventura since the beginning of the year, including an arrest after a physical fight at a park, said Commander Tom Higgins.
He was also stopped on March 31 after a passer-by reported he was brandishing a knife. Police searched his bag and found a knife but there was no victim so no charge was filed, Higgins said.
Jackson has a lengthy rap sheet including charges in San Bernardino County, Higgins said, as well as convictions for burglary and unlawful sexual intercourse dating back to the 1990s.
The killing prompted the Ventura City Council to increase police patrols in the area and add staff members to monitor security cameras, among other measures.
“We are extremely disheartened and infuriated by this criminal attack,” Mayor Neal Andrews said in a statement. “We will not tolerate this in our community. Nothing is more important than the safety of our visitors, residents and businesses.”
If convicted, Jackson faces up to 55 years in prison.