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Gun violence issue surfaces at House of Delegates


ABA President Laurel Bellows: "We are dealing with controversial issues on which everyone need not agree." ©Kathy Anderson 2013

Gun violence was not a prominent theme of the 2013 ABA Midyear Meeting, but the issue flared to the surface as the House of Delegates convened on the last day of the meeting.

As delegates gathered, news was spreading about a shooting at a Wilmington, Del., courthouse that left three people dead, including the shooter. A speech by Myron T. Steele, chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court who also serves as president of the Conference of Chief Justices, was moved up to near the start of the session so he could return to deal with the crisis back home.

And not long after Steele spoke, ABA President Laurel G. Bellows addressed the issue of gun violence at the close of her speech to the House.

“We are dealing with controversial issues on which everyone need not agree,” said Bellows, the principal at the Bellows Law Group in Chicago, but “we will not remain silent.”

Bellows said the ABA “promotes commonsense regulation to ensure that responsible people use guns responsibly. We recognize rights under the Second Amendment, but we also support appropriate regulations” in areas like effective background checks, data collection and bans on the sale of military-style assault weapons.

Bellows’ remarks to the House echoed comments she made on Sunday in an interview with the ABA Journal, in which she said, “The ABA is a voice in every significant issue that relates to the Constitution and relates to the rights of people in this country.” Part of the duties of the ABA president, she said, is to speak to existing policies of the association.

Just before the midyear meeting, Bellows stated the ABA’s support for two bills submitted in Congress after the fatal shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Those bills are the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act, which would stiffen penalties and increase the likelihood of prosecution for people who attempt to avoid background checks necessary to purchase a gun; and the Assault Weapons Regulatory Act, which would limit the availability of military assault-type firearms and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

On Jan. 30, Bellows submitted written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in conjunction with a hearing on what should be done about gun violence. In that statement, Bellows said the ABA’s first call for more careful regulation of firearms sales came in the wake of President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination in Dallas. Since then, she said, the House of Delegates has approved more than a dozen policy resolutions that are intended to reduce gun violence.

Bellows said the ABA has received comments from a small number of people, including some members—the estimated number is somewhat less than 100—expressing concern about ABA policy positions on the gun violence issue. She said that each of those members has been contacted by her or a member of the executive committee of the Board of Governors. “But the comments I’ve heard at this meeting have been in support of current policy,” Bellows noted.

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