Protestors showing support for gun safety legislation (photo courtesy of the NYT)
In light of recent tragic incidents of gun violence across the country, many of which have resulted in the loss of children, Americans are expressing a desire for a change in the status quo. While many political groups have different ideas of what this may look like, the message from leaders and advocates is clear: gun violence has no place in our society.
Mass shootings have become more frequent in the past decade. According to the Washington Post, there have been more than 250 mass shootings in the United States in the first half of 2022, taking approximately 256 lives. This translates to an average of almost two mass shootings per day. Moreover, many of these incidents occurred in schools, raising concern over children’s safety. The idea of having armed police officers in schools continues to be hotly debated. Still, some lawmakers have even advocated for providing teachers with weapons in an effort to deter and combat gun violence. After the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old student opened fire, killing 19 students and two teachers, Ohio state legislators introduced and passed a bill to allow the Ohio Board Of Education to allow teachers to carry guns. This bill has been sent to Ohio Governor Mike DeWine for approval but has also received tremendous opposition from Democratic lawmakers.
In response to these events, on June 11, 2022, the March for Our Lives advocacy group organized several marches nationwide, with the most prominent one in Washington D.C. This group also organized widespread protests in 2018 after the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida, where a 19-year-old opened fire in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 and wounding 17 more individuals, and has continued to advocate for stricter regulations on firearms. However, the National Rifle Association (NRA) continues to be a vocal opponent of any restrictions on guns in the United States, presenting tough opposition to these protests and potential gun control legislation.
The issue of gun violence often tends to go hand in hand with mental health concerns for the perpetrators. To reduce mass shootings, citizens have called on lawmakers to address both firearms regulations and access to mental health counseling and resources. In the wake of the Uvalde shooting, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed a similar sentiment urging for better mental health treatment nationwide. This was echoed by other legislators and incorporated into a draft of what would become a historic bipartisan gun bill.
On June 8, 2022, in response to the Texas shooting, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on a bill introducing stricter gun control regulations, specifically raising the minimum age to buy a semiautomatic weapon from 18 to 21. This bill received minimal support from five Republican representatives but passed by a 223-204 vote.
This particular bill was recently amended to create the historic Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which passed in the Senate by a 65-33 vote. It was signed into law by President Biden on June 24. This Act introduces more stringent background checks and revocation protocols for gun seekers under 21. It also allocates several million dollars of funding towards mental health resources and paves the way for red flag laws, which allow officials to confiscate weapons from individuals found by a judge to be a threat to themselves or to others, to be established and carried out. Although this legislation began in the hands of the House Democrats, fifteen Senate Republicans voted in support of the measure. Given the recent uptick in gun violence, especially among younger individuals, this Act is an encouraging sign that politicians are working together to ensure Americans’ safety.
The Act that was signed into law wasn’t nearly as far-reaching as Democratic legislators had originally hoped. The law mainly focuses on implementing measures for stricter background checks and mental health screening measures rather than restricting gun sales themselves. However, a two-pronged approach to the situation–both legislation improving access to mental health resources across the country and a pathway to more red-flag laws–seems to be a good compromise for the two parties at the moment. In the future, legislators should also devise a bill that more specifically tackles gun sales, particularly sales of semi-automatic weapons, given their potential for mass casualties. Partisan politics has hindered the effort to decrease gun violence thus far and should not continue to be a roadblock, given the urgency of this crisis.