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Colorado Movie Theater Massacre Renews Gun Control Debate In California

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — Friday morning’s mass shooting at a Colorado theater has renewed the debate over gun laws. The big question: Do ordinary citizens need access to assault weapons?

A midnight showing of the latest Batman movie in the Denver suburb of Aurora turned into a death trap. Authorities said a gunman in full body armor fired an assault rifle, shotgun and a pistol in the theater, shooting and killing people trying to escape.

As the nation mourns, gun control advocates are calling for stricter laws.

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President Barack Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney expressed their sympathies. But it’s not good enough for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“And it’s time I think that we hold them accountable and say, okay, you want our votes, what are you going to do?” he said.

Gun rights supporters argue taking weapons away could actually be more harmful. “Having a completely disarmed general citizenry really does not help preventing these types of mass shootings. If somebody in the theater had possibly been armed, probably fewer than a dozen people may have been killed, and less than 50 people could have possibly been injured,” said Yih-Chau Chang of the Responsible Citizens of California.

CBS 5 asked if a gun battle wouldn’t be even more dangerous. Chang said, “Well there’s been basically defensive gun uses happen in this country about 4,109 times every single day. Regular law-abiding citizens such as yourself and myself defend themselves oftentimes without even having to fire a shot.”

Gun control advocates disagree, saying assault weapons have to be banned. “That kind of damage can only be caused when you have a weapon that holds huge numbers, magazines that hold a lot of bullets and that can be fired very rapidly,” said Robyn Thomas with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

“So I think it’s true that we can’t stop every incident, but we can certainly help keep some of these types of incidents as damaging as they are.”

Assault weapons are banned in California, but people can still fire semiautomatic rifles such as an AR-15 as long as a device called a “bullet button” is used. The device allows one to quickly detach a magazine, even though under state law detachable magazines in combination with other features are illegal.

The bullet button makes a gun’s magazine “fixed” and therefore legal, because one needs a tool, such as the tip of a bullet, to detach it.

State Senator Leland Yee has said it’s a loophole he wants to plug. In a statement after Friday’s shootings, Yee claims his bill, SB 249, will limit the easy loading and reloading of weapons.

“We must limit access to weapons that can carry massive rounds of bullets or that can be easily reloaded. SB 249 is a step in that direction and should be approved by the legislature as soon as possible,” Yee said.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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