Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Christopher S. Murphy (D-Conn.) should resist the urge to pat themselves on the back after President Joe Biden signed into law bipartisan gun legislation that aims to stop dangerous people from purchasing or possessing firearms and invests in mental health and school safety across the states.
States also can qualify for additional federal aid if they adopt red flag laws that allow the courts to disarm people deemed a danger to themselves or others. Texas in all likelihood will not be one of those states.
The two senators led negotiations in the wake of a May 14 racially motivated mass shooting at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket that left 10 Black people dead and three people injured, followed 10 days later by the mass shooting at a Uvalde school that left 19 students and two teachers dead and 17 others wounded.
Murphy’s official website touts the new legislation, quoting him: “Today, we are announcing a commonsense, bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country. Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities.”
Similarly, Cornyn’s website highlights “Uvalde resources” and quotes him: “The shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde is every parent and teacher’s worst nightmare. No parent, child, or teacher should ever have to wonder whether it’s safe to go to school.”
If I were a parent of young children in Texas, or a teacher, the new legislation would not ease my worries or my demand that conservative lawmakers do more.
It’s safe to say the Uvalde killings would have occurred had the new gun safety law been passed beforehand. In both the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings, 18-year-old men legally purchased assault weapons and large quantities of ammunition. New York legislators passed legislation after the Buffalo mass shooting that raises the minimum age to purchase a semiautomatic rifle from 18 to 21.
Cornyn and other Senate Republicans blocked Democratic efforts to follow their House colleagues and include that proviso in the federal legislation. Republican leaders in Texas have shown no interest in restricting assault weapon purchases here, even after Uvalde.
Meanwhile, family members who lost loved ones in the Buffalo massacre reacted angrily to Thursday’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down a New York law that restricted citizens from carrying handguns in public.
“Let’s be clear: the Supreme Court got this decision wrong, choosing to put our communities in even greater danger with gun violence on the rise across the country,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
The new federal law signed by Biden does include a measure requiring authorities to review the juvenile and mental health records of buyers under the age of 21, but little has been explained to date about how local authorities will make that data available in real time for background checks. Accessing sealed records in county databases is bound to be hit and miss at best, especially when young gun buyers seek to purchase weapons after leaving one state and establishing residency in another state.
The new law will not stop undisclosed purchases and sales of firearms and ammunition among private owners, and while penalties are increased for straw buyers acting on behalf of felons, gangs and drug cartels, federally licensed gun dealers do not face new restrictions on assault weapon and ammunition sales.
The good news, if it can be called that, is that politicians finally stopped spewing their talking points written by the National Rifle Association and other groups that promote ownership of guns designed specifically to kill humans and actually did something.
Last week’s small step forward conceivably could lead to additional federal legislation further addressing America’s gun violence epidemic, unlike anything found in any other civil democracy. Unfortunately, the trigger for next steps likely will only come after the next mass shooting at a school by an aggrieved young man. Only sustained public outrage will move the political needle. Conservative politicians will act only if they fear the consequences at the polls.
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