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Gun law reforms face long odds in Congress following mass shootings

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 1:40 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Following two mass shootings over the last two weeks. the president says he’ll take action himself if lawmakers don’t. But, his options are limited and substantial gun law reform would require an act of Congress.

Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate are ready to force a debate on gun reform. “Everything, everything is on the table,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared earlier this week.

Schumer has promised a range of gun law reforms will be debated and considered this year, a step that Republican leaders were largely not open to when they had control of the chamber from 2014 to the start of this year. But for the debate to end with new or amended laws on the books, Democrats will need buy-in from at least ten Republican Senators.

“Do you see momentum for gun reform this Congress?,” we asked Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). He responded simply, “I wish I could tell you that was the case.”

The U.S. House of Representatives began outlining reforms before a shooter gunned down eight people in Georgia. It signed off on new background check requirements and banning domestic abusers from buying or owning guns shortly thereafter. Days later, another gunman killed 10 people in Colorado.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said he hopes the debate ahead can be done in a bipartisan fashion and address the root of the problem. “Focusing only on gun control is not going to end the threat going forward,” he said.

While some Senate Republicans may be open to the measures passed by the Democratically-controlled House, most argue more needs to be done to enforce laws already on the books.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) argues Congress should not infringe on responsible gun-owners’ rights to own guns.

She said despite a focus on gun control after mass shootings, the incidents reveal deep flaws in the nation’s mental health system. “I think that’s someplace we really need to place a greater emphasis,” she said.

While mass shootings draw broad media attention, according to the CDC, more than 100 Americans die from firearm-related injuries every day, with more than half taking their own lives.

“We really need to act this year,” said Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Brown spent years pushing for the original background check bill before it became law in 1993.

The eponymous ‘Brady Bill’ is named after James Brady, press secretary for former President Ronald Regan. Brady was injured when a gunman tried to assassinate Reagan in 1981. FBI data suggest it has blocked more than 3.5 million sales to those who cannot legally purchase a weapon.

Brown maintains a wide range of new laws, tweaks to existing ones, and investments in health and welfare are all needed to stem gun violence in the country. “Every life we save with these kinds of laws is worth it,” she said.

While Brown holds out hope for gun reform legislation in the nation’s capital, recent history suggests action is more likely at the state level. But, state lawmakers can’t break with or overrule federal law.

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