DemDaily: Gunned Down

May 26, 2022

In the more than six years that I have been writing the DemDaily column, over 30 articles have been dedicated to the subject of gun violence in America.

The tragedies have been many, the public outcry deafening, the thunder of fists and boom of voices heard in legislative chambers and in Congress, and broadcast for the record.

Yet the statistics are the same and the status unmoved, with no major legislation passed in the United States Congress during that period, or, in fact, for almost three decades.

We are once again reminded that, while gun violence is still one of the most pressing issues of our time, it continues to be buried among other legislative priorities. Until, of course, the next mass shooting.

On May 24, an 18-year-old gunman, who legally purchased two AR-15 style semi-automatic rifles, walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 19 children and two teachers. The shooter, who was killed on the scene, wounded 17 others. The average age of the murdered children was ten years old.

It is the second deadliest school shooting in history after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, which killed twenty children and six teachers.

Texas, with some of the most gun-friendly laws in the nation, has been home to some of the deadliest mass shootings in the US over the past five years. Mass shootings are defined as those in which four or more people are injured or killed, not including the perpetrator.

Last September Governor Greg Abbott signed into law seven new bills to "protect the rights of gun owners" by lifting restrictions in the Lone Star State.

That included freeing Texans from a permit requirement, thereby allowing individuals to carry handguns in public without a license, background check, safety training or a proficiency test.

While Texas' existing law limits the purchase of handguns to age 21, it is legal for 18-year-olds to buy a long gun or rifle, such as an AR-15, which was originally designed for combat warfare.

Another new Abbott law prohibited "any government entity from contracting with any business that discriminates against firearm and ammunition businesses and organizations like the NRA."

Despite the tragedy, Governor Greg Abbott is scheduled to be a featured speaker at the National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Houston this weekend. His fellow Texans Senator Ted Cruz (R) and Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R) will also speak, as well as former President Donald Trump.

At a Wednesday news conference about the mass shootings, Abbott responded to the crisis by saying this is not a gun issue, but a "mental health" issue, while failing to mention that last April he slashed $211 million dollars from the department that oversees mental health programs in Texas.

Abbott was angrily confronted by former Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke who is challenging Abbott in the November gubernatorial election.

Amid a heated exchange from the dais filled with GOP officials, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin (R) called O'Rourke "a sick son of a bitch that would come to a deal like this to make a political issue.”

As O'Rourke was escorted out of the room, he turned back to Abbott saying, “This is on you until you choose to do something different. This will continue to happen.”

The Stats: The United States boasts a gun-related murder rate 25 times higher than other high-income nations * An average of 321 people are shot every day in the United States, including an average of 111 deaths * The Uvalde Robb Elementary massacre was the 213th mass shooting and the 27th school shooting this year * Firearms are the leading cause of death among children in the US

What Now?
In Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called on his colleagues to bring stalled House-passed legislation to the floor.

In 2021, the US House passed two bills aimed at strengthening the nation's gun laws, including requiring background checks on all gun sales and transfers, and extending the time for the FBI to vet those flagged by the national instant check system.

Other legislation introduced in the House and the Senate centers on red flag laws, which allows for an “extreme risk” protective orders barring people from buying or possessing firearms if a judge deems them to be a threat to themselves or others. Additional gun safety measures include legal requirements for firearms retailers, safe storage of firearms, a ban on assault rifles and on homemade "ghost guns," a prohibition on high-capacity magazines, and an increase in the age requirement for gun purchase, among others.

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), whose home state was the site of the 2012 Sandy Hook murders, is leading the bipartisan negotiations. With opposition from the GOP on most of these measures, however, it is unlikely that Democrats could secure the 60 votes needed to override a filibuster and pass any substantive legislation in the US Senate.

In the interim, the US Supreme Court is expected to announce a decision soon on New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, which challenges New York's strict license requirement for caring guns in public. The High Court's 6-3 conservative supermajority is expected to overturn the New York law.

A May 25, 2022 POLITICO/Morning Consult poll conducted after the shooting in Uvalde, showed that 88% of registered voters strongly or somewhat support requiring background checks on all gun sales (MOE: +/- 2%).

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: EveryTown for Gun Safety, Gun Violence Archive, Brady, Giffords Law Center, USCongress, Politico, CBS, NBCDFW, The Hill

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