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Preventing Gun Violence: It Takes a Bipartisan Effort

Our society needs to come together to prevent gun violence.

Preventing Gun Violence: It Takes a Bipartisan Effort

I don’t like guns. I don’t like the speed with which they can kill from a distance. I don’t like the fact that they can spray a room with bullets in a matter of seconds. I don’t like how quickly their presence can escalate an argument leading to a fatality. I don’t like “shoot first, ask questions later.” Especially in the minds of the police. I don’t like how often abusive men use guns on the women who try to escape them. I don’t like how often we are seeing gun violence in our schools. I don’t like the finality with which they can end a life by suicide. I don’t like guns.

So, I have watched the yo-yo over gun control, the stranglehold of the NRA lobby on Congress, the mounting deaths of innocent targeted groups, the ridiculous number of suicides by guns and wondered when something, anything, would or could be done about guns.

For example, the Supreme Court is considering a case right now on whether a restraining order is grounds to remove guns from the equation. Zackey Rahimi was a man who loved guns. Loved to shoot guns. At people. Near people. To express his anger. To seek revenge. He had been arrested for violating a protective order to distance himself from his ex and in the process a cache of weapons and ammunition was found in his home, which is illegal. Under Texas law. Yes, Texas law. The judge said that it was time to take his guns away. Rahimi’s lawyers appealed. Violated his 2nd Amendment rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit disagreed. Take away his guns. Rahimi’s lawyers appealed again. It went to the US Supreme Court and in the most pathetic decision on gun control imaginable, Clarence Thomas wrote in an opinion that no law can keep a man from having his guns, just because there is a restraining order. The funny thing about a restraining order is that it is meant to be preventative. It is an alert to law enforcement that an individual has threatened someone, and therefore must stay away. But a restraining order does not necessarily indicate that a crime was committed. So, the Rahimi case argument is that, although Rahimi kept his guns in violation of the court order, the court order itself was unconstitutional. Everyone is hoping that the Supreme Court will want to avoid a headline of “Supreme Court Upholds Abusers Keeping Guns”. But Clarence Thomas, ever sticking with his “what would the forefathers do”, says that there were no restraining orders in the 1770’s, so a restraining order can’t be grounds for removing a person’s gun. Gotta love this guy.

We’ve actually been making some progress with laws to address gun violence over the last few years, thanks to lobbying by the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation. By focusing on expanding laws to prevent violence without eliminating the right to bear arms, they have made substantial progress with a bipartisan approach. For example, in 2022, the Bipartisan Safe Communities Act was signed into law. It’s pretty powerful.

It provides funding for ERPO or “red flag laws” which enable states to remove guns from people in crisis – suicidal, homicidal, having mental health breakdowns, drug addicts – until the person is out of crisis. Then the guns are returned.

– It provides funding for CVIs – Community Based Violence Intervention programs in which gun violence survivors help mediate and break cycles of retaliatory violence in neighborhoods.
– It provides increased funding for programs for schools to train students and teachers to monitor for signs of students in crisis and anonymously report them based on the STOP School Violence Act of 2018.
– It provides funding for schools to expand mental health options and make efforts toward violence prevention.
– It provides a clearer definition of arms dealing so that on-line dealers and gun show dealers must be licensed and must conduct background checks.
– It expands the laws preventing domestic abusers from having guns from those who abuse spouses, to also those who abuse dating partners.
– It cracks down on straw purchases – where a gun is bought by person A who can pass a background check, who then gives the gun to person B, who cannot.
– It prohibits gun sales to anyone under 21.

If you read what it does, you will notice that it does not say anything about eliminating ghost guns, or assault rifles. None of the things that the NRA fights against.

So, now, I am paying attention to Biden’s new Office on Gun Violence, to see exactly what they can do. Biden was very clear on the intent:
– Implement laws on the books such as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act
– Coordinate support for survivors and affected communities – the same way you would respond to a natural disaster
– Identify additional actions that don’t conflict with existing laws or interpretations of the 2nd amendment
– Partner with states and cities so that they can enact local laws.

I think the mandate of the office is amazingly benign. They are taking what is called a “public health approach”. Gun violence makes communities unsafe and that’s a public health issue. In response, research and actions are necessary to alleviate the gun violence, working within the framework of the 2nd Amendment. However, Republicans are already trying to fight it. A Republican Montana Representative says that it’s a cover for gun control and a means to bypass congress to achieve it. So, he has introduced a bill to completely terminate the office and prevent any president from creating one again. I don’t think it will get past the Senate, but the House Republicans may put some effort into it.

So, how bad is our gun violence problem? Our government has not generated any good numbers on its own. In 1996 – three years before the Columbine High School Massacre that left 12 students dead and 21 injured – a law was passed preventing the CDC from using funding to advocate or promote gun control. And in a very sad interpretation of the law, the CDC shut down all government research into gun violence for two decades, until there was a clarification by Congress in 2018 that research was allowable. Luckily, this did not end all data collection. The Washington Post, ABC News, Everytown Support Fund, Pew Research Center, RAND Corporation and the Gun Violence Archive have all been collecting the data that the CDC could not. The Washington Post just published a piece stating that there have been 389 school shootings with over 200 deaths, 430 people injured, and a total of 357,000 students experiencing shooting violence since 1999, based on the number of students in school at the time. And except for the months of COVID, the numbers keep rising. There were 67 school shootings in 2022, not including college campuses. In fact, if you place school shootings into the umbrella of all mass shootings in America, there have been 500 this year alone. Moreover, there have been 25,000 gun-related deaths in 2023. To say that it’s time that our nation stopped pretending that gun violence is a problem is a serious understatement.

President Biden has a wishlist:
– Ban assault weapons
– Require safe storage
– Require background checks in all circumstances
– Force gun manufacturers to be held accountable for deaths with firearms (I’m sure the NRA loves that one.)
– Expand community policing – which is complex, difficult and expensive, requiring a mindset that most police do not currently have.

Biden’s wishlist is incredibly liberal, would be fought tooth and nail by both the NRA and Police Unions, and could not pass in today’s Congress. But 2024 is around the corner. We’ll see.

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