DemDaily: Three More

March 28, 2023

Evelyn, Hallie and William. All aged nine.

Those were the three children murdered yesterday at the Covenant Christian Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee.

With a total of six victims, including the school's chief administrator, Monday’s attack became the deadliest school shooting since the horrific massacre in Uvalde, Texas last May that left 19 children and 2 adults dead.

The attack was 2023's 131st mass shooting -- defined as when four or more victims are injured or killed by a gun. Of those, 13 involved shootings at K-12 schools. That is almost one a week.

Firearms are the leading cause of death among children in the US. In 2022 gun-related incidences accounted for the death of 314, and injury of 681, children ages 0 to 11. Among teens aged 12 to 17, guns accounted for the death of 1,366 and the injury of 3,806 more.

The Covenant killer, a 28-year-old former student, legally purchased the three weapons used in the attack -- an AR assault-style rifle, an AR-style pistol and a handgun. Four more guns were found at the killer's home, along with a manifesto and maps of other planned attacks.

One of the weapons used was a KelTec SUB2000 Carbine Rifle, a foldable semi-automatic weapon that the manufacturer describes as "fun to shoot."

Tennessee, like 40 other states, does not require a waiting period between the time of purchase and the actual physical transfer of a firearm.

It also is not among the 19 states and the District of Columbia which have enacted some form of "red-flag" or "extreme protection" law that permits a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person whom they believe presents a danger to others or themselves.

In 2021, Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee signed a bill that allowed people 21 and older to openly carry handguns without permits. Last month, Tennessee Republicans introduced legislation to lower that age threshold to 18-year-old residents. The state house version of the bill changes the policy to include any firearm, not just handguns.

In response to Nashville school shooting, the National Rifle Association (NRA) said that enhanced school security would act as a "deterrent" to such crimes.

The United States boasts a gun-related murder rate 26 times greater than that of other high-income nations, and a firearms suicide rate eight times higher than any country. An average of 321 people are shot every day in the US, resulting in an average of 114 deaths.

President Joe Biden on Monday called the Nashville shooting a "family's worst nightmare" and again implored Congress to pass greater reforms, including an assault weapons ban, an increase to the minimum age to buy guns, and greater standards for background checks.

"We have to do more to stop gun violence," he said. "It is ripping our communities apart, and ripping at the very soul of this nation."

Monday's tragedy comes two weeks after Biden signed the latest of nearly two dozen executive orders he has issued related to gun safety. The March 14th order is aimed primarily at enhancing background checks on firearms buyers, stopping short of requiring universal background checks -- which can only be done by Congress.

Last June Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the most significant gun safety legislation to pass Congress in nearly 30 years.

The Act provides funding incentives to states to pass red-flag laws, strengthens background checks for 18-21 year-olds and closes the "boyfriend loophole" by expanding the prohibition of gun ownership from convicted domestic abusers to dating partners rather than just spouses and former spouses.

It also institutes "straw purchasing" penalties and clarification of the definition of a firearms dealer, and funds school safety measures, mental health programs and telehealth services.

Biden has pushed the limits of his presidential powers to advance sweeping actions combating the crisis of gun violence in America, but it is up to Congress to pass the more critical measures, such as the assault weapons ban.

Although President Bill Clinton signed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) into law in 1994, it expired in 2004 and subsequent legislation to restore the ban has yet to successfully reach another president's desk.

A January 29-31, 2023 Economist/YouGov Poll of registered US voters found that support for stricter handgun laws has increased -- now at 58%, up from 53% last November and 45% in April (MOE: ± 3%).

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: EveryTown for Gun Safety, Gun Violence Archive, Brady, Giffords Law Center, New Republic, BBC, Education Week, Forbes

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