Mass shootings in the U.S. have nearly tripled since 2013, the year after 20 children and six staff were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Congress finally appears to be taking action.
Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate broke a filibuster on a bipartisan bill that aims to prevent and reduce the mass shooting incidents through tougher background checks on young people buying guns and bolstering “red flag” laws in states that have them.
It does not outlaw assault weapons or the sale of large magazines. It does not raise the age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21. It does not expand universal background checks.
So it is a small — but significant — step to curbing gun violence. We believe Congress should move toward expanding universal background checks and re-instituting the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.
The bill passed a preliminary procedural hurdle on a vote of 64-34, with 14 Republicans voting with all 48 Democrats and two independents. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted in favor and the full Senate was expected to pass the bill as early as Friday. One of the sponsors, GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, cast a vote in favor though he was booed at the Republican convention in his own state as he explained the bill.
The background checks for people age 18-20 would include juvenile crime records and mental health records and the waiting period would be expanded from three to 10 days in order to examine the additional records.
The proposal also closes the so-called “boyfriend” loophole, denying guns to unmarried intimate partners who have been convicted of domestic violence crimes. The current law only included people who were married, lived together, or had children together.
The plan sends $750 million to states that have red flag laws, as many don’t have the funds to enforce them. It also would require more informal gun sellers to conduct background checks. It spends $2 billion for school safety initiatives and $8.6 billion for mental health services.
The bill would also increase penalties for so-called “straw buyers,” who legally buy guns and then provide them to those who would not qualify to have a gun.
The NRA opposed the bill, as did some potential presidential candidates such as Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas. But the momentum appears to be with McConnell and others who called the bill “commonsense” and say it will reduce mass shootings.
Gun violence has been so horrific and the gun lobby so powerful that any small step to curbing gun violence seems like a major victory. Republicans and Democrats say for once they saw the real fear in their constituents’ eyes and voices after mass shootings of 10 shoppers at a Buffalo grocery store and the slaughter of 19 children and two teachers at a Texas school just two weeks apart.
It’s not a sign of healthy democracy that people have to be deathly afraid of being shot as they go about their daily routines in schools or grocery stores in order for Congress to act. But Congress seems to be finally listening to the fear.
We urge Congress to continue on this path to implement more commonsense gun violence prevention measures and to do it without the motivation of another mass shooting.