The US and guns – update

In late May, when I wrote this post, I knew there would need to be an update in the continuing saga of gun violence in the United States. A lot has happened since then, so here goes.

In the wake of the national furor over the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, a bipartisan group of senators managed to hammer out a bill that could pass. It is much weaker than the bill that had originally passed in the House but does have some important provisions. It increases funding for mental health services, which is much needed. The impact on mass shootings is unclear but the majority of gun fatalities in the United States are suicides, so there is hope that these funds will avert some share of these deaths. There are incentives for states to implement red flag laws, which prevent firearm sales and/or remove guns from homes where someone is deemed threatening to themselves or others. The laws preventing those convicted of domestic violence from obtaining guns were strengthened. There will be enhanced background checks for those ages 18-20. Penalties for those who purchase guns for someone who is not eligible to own one have been increased. Funding for security in schools will increase.

Unfortunately, stronger prevention measures were not included, most of which have broad public support. Among these are strengthened and universal background checks, banning military-style assault weapons and large ammunition clips, and raising the age to buy semiautomatic weapons to 21. It’s unlikely that Republicans will agree to any further national legislation in the immediate future, so it is up to states to do what they can to protect people, although it is easy for anyone intent on getting a weapon to do so by visiting a state with looser regulations.

Ironically, just as this legislation was passed, the Supreme Court handed down an opinion that struck down the process to carry a concealed weapon in my home state, New York. This law, which had been on the books for over a century, was somehow not deemed to be part of our history and tradition by the conservatives on the Court, while ignoring the clear text of the Second Amendment that places gun rights in the context of “a well-regulated militia.”

Governor Hochul called the state legislature, which usually is in session only in the winter and spring, back from recess to pass new laws that would seem to be acceptable to the Court which had objected to a gun owner proving that they needed to carry a concealed weapon for protection. The new laws include mandatory standardized training and tests to obtain a concealed carry permit, a blanket prohibition on carrying firearms on private property and businesses unless they expressly give permission, and a list of “sensitive places” where concealed weapons are not permitted, including public transportation, medical facilities, schools and day care facilities, libraries, government buildings, houses of worship, public demonstrations, entertainment venues, and establishments that serve alcohol.

There are also provisions that strengthen New York’s already relatively strict gun laws, including background checks for all ammunition purchases, enhancements of the safe storage requirements including in vehicles, and extending the sales ban on body armor to include hard body armor which was used by the shooter in Buffalo.

These new laws will take effect on September first. They may be challenged in court but the legislature and governor tried to design them in such a way that they will be upheld. At least, we will have greater protections while the cases wind their way through the courts.

Meanwhile, of course, gun violence continues unabated. The Fourth of July weekend was especially brutal, with over 500 shootings, at least 11 of which were categorized as mass shootings (four or more injured or killed, not counting the shooter), resulting in over 220 deaths and nearly 570 injuries. The information source for this reporting is the Gun Violence Archive, an organization that collects and compiles data on shootings in the US. That our country has need of such an organization is sobering in and of itself. As I write this on July 7, 2022, they have verified 22,733 gun deaths so far this year, of which 12,408 were suicides.

The most prominent of the mass shootings this weekend was at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. A 21-year-old man, shooting with a military-style weapon from a rooftop overlooking the parade route, killed seven with several dozen wounded. He was later arrested and has confessed to the crime. Our news reports are filled with the tragic losses of family members, including the parents of a 2-year-old who was found beneath his father’s body.

This father died protecting his only child from a young man who should not have had a weapon of war. All of us need the protection of law to keep these weapons out of civilian hands. Congress, do your job and pass more laws so that our rates of gun violence are more in line with those of other advanced democracies. Other countries have similar rates of mental illness, violent video games, and social problems, but have nowhere near our rates of gun violence. Republicans, it’s time to wake up and admit the truth that the heart of the problem is too-easy access to guns, especially military-style weapons. And remember that your beloved Second Amendment is about a “well-regulated militia” – now akin to the National Guard – not your mentally unstable 18-year-old neighbor who has fallen into some dark conspiracy-laden corner of the internet and thinks he should kill some folks to show he has power over them.

Congressional Republicans, you have the power to join with your Democratic and Independent colleagues to protect us. If you need help mustering courage, look to the example of that dad in Highland Park. Your possibly sacrificing a few votes in your next election or some campaign contributions is nothing compared to his sacrificing his life and his chance to see his child grow into adulthood.

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