Updated: Mar 24
Just as the nation is beginning to recover from the devastating coronavirus pandemic, which has claimed 543,000 lives, and people begin to venture outside their homes, more lives are being lost to another scourge: gun violence.
Once again, the politicians send their "thoughts and prayers" to the families of the victims, expressing sympathy and saying how their hearts are breaking. But given today's political atmosphere, even with Democrats in control of the Senate, that may be about all that happens.
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Only days after eight victims, including six Asian women, were gunned down in three Atlanta-area spas, 10 more lives were lost yesterday when a gunman opened fire with an assault rifle in a Boulder, CO supermarket. Included in the victims was a police officer with seven kids.
"At times like these, it's hard to see the light that shines through the darkness," said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis today.
Ironically, yesterday's shooting occurred just 10 days after a district court judge struck down a city ordinance banning assault-style weapons, siding with the Colorado State Shooting Association and two individual plaintiffs, ruling that under a state law, cities and counties cannot restrict guns that are otherwise legal under federal and state law.
The Atlanta and Boulder incidents have revived calls for governmental action that would help prevent such shootings. It's an old battle, though, one that continues to resurface every time a mass shooting occurs, only to die down once public outrage subsides.
"We tried to protect our city," Dawn Reinfeld, co-founder of the Colorado gun violence prevention group Blue Rising, told The Washington Post. “It’s so tragic to see the legislation struck down, and days later, to have our city experience exactly what we were trying to prevent.”
But, as typically happens after such an incident, gun proponents offered sympathy, but said emotions are too high to sensibly discuss how such shootings could be prevented.
“There will be a time for the debate on gun laws. There will be a time for the discussion on motives. There will be a time for a conversation on how this could have been prevented,” the Colorado State Shooting Association said. “But today is not the time.”
According to CNN, the Colorado supermarket and Atlanta Asian spa shootings were among at least seven mass shootings to occur across the nation over the past week. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracks some gun violence data, nearly 40,000 people were killed in incidents involving firearms in 2019.
According to a 2015 national survey published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, roughly 22 percent of gun owners reported that they had purchased a firearm in the previous two years without a background check. About 50 percent of sales between individuals in person, online, or at gun shows were made without a background check, the survey found.
While many state legislatures, pandering to the National Rifle Association, are working to strike down restrictive gun laws or enact laws providing easier access and use of firearms, two major bills have been passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and sent to the Senate -- where they will likely die.
Strengthening Background Checks
H.R. 8, passed by the House on March 11, would extend background check requirements to almost all gun transfers, including those between private parties. It would require firearms transfers between private parties to be handled by a licensed firearms dealer, who would take possession of the firearm while the background check is being conducted.
“Background checks work,” the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Mike Thompson, said after the bill passed on March 11. “Every day, in the licensed dealers where you have to get a background check, 170 felons are stopped from buying a gun, 50 domestic abusers every day are stopped from buying a gun. That’s through the existing background check program. It only makes sense if it’s expanded, you’ll stop even more felons, more domestic abusers.”
The 'Charleston Loophole'
The second House-passed bill, H.R. 1446, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, was created to address what some call the "Charleston Loophole," which reportedly made it possible for Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, to obtain the weapon he used to kill nine people at a historically Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
“He should not have had the gun,” Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC), who introduced the bill, said on the House floor March 10. “And the reason he had the gun is because when he went to purchase it and the three days expired as current law allows, they had not been able to verify the information he had given them, and therefore [they] could not complete the background check. But under the law, they had to sell him the gun after the three days, only to find out several days later that the wrong information had been put into the record.”
“When they found the error, it was too late,” Clyburn said. “This law would have prevented that gentleman from getting a gun.”
But Republicans argued that tightening that loophole would have made no difference.
“What happened in Charleston was terrible,” Republican Rep. Jim Jordan said in rebuttal. “It was wrong. Wrong as wrong can be. But this bill is not going to stop it. The FBI had two months. Didn’t do it, didn’t stop this guy. They had two months.”
Jordan was referring to the fact that the FBI did not confirm that the sale shouldn’t have been approved until after the shooting two months later due to a paperwork snafu at the jail where Roof was confined. He had been arrested for possession of a controlled substance about a month before the shooting, but was released.
The result: nine people meeting for prayer in church died because Roof had been able to purchase the gun used in the massacre because the three-day waiting period under South Carolina law had run out.
Thoughts and Prayers
President Biden said Tuesday he would do everything possible to keep Americans safe from gun violence and called on the Senate to approve universal background checks and an assault weapons ban.
"I don't need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future," he declared.
The question, of course, is just what does this mean?
While Democrats have theoretical control of the 50-50 Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaking vote, the filibuster likely will prevent them from attracting enough Republican votes to overcome the 60-vote threshold needed to pass such legislation.
Whether these shootings will spark sufficient outrage for Democrats to resort to the "nuclear option" of repealing the filibuster rule seems to be in doubt. In fact, they may not even be able to hold all 50 Democratic votes, as Sen. Joe Manchin (WVA) is no guarantee, among possibly some other more conservative members of the caucus. So in that case nothing will happen, unless enough moderate Republicans can be persuaded to support the effort.
If those efforts fail, as has happened so many times past, even after horrific school shootings when little children were murdered, thoughts and prayers for the victims will need to suffice.