Home Illinois After Nashville, Congress faces limits on new gun law

After Nashville, Congress faces limits on new gun law


WASHINGTON (AP) — Nine months ago, President Joe Biden signed a sweeping bipartisan gun bill into law, the most important legislative response to gun violence in decades.

“Lives will be saved,” he said at the White House.

The law has already banned some potentially dangerous people from owning guns. However, since the signing last summer, the number of mass shootings in the United States has only increased. Five people died in a night club in Colorado. Eleven killed in dance hall in California. And just last week, three 9-year-olds and three adults were shot and killed at an elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee.

A day after the school shooting, Biden’s tone was noticeably less upbeat than it was at the signing ceremony.

“What in God’s name are we doing?” he asked in a speech Tuesday, calling for a ban on so-called assault weapons like the one used in the shooting at Covenant School in Nashville. “There is a moral price to pay for inaction.”

Biden and others hailed last year’s bipartisan gun bill — approved just weeks after the shooting deaths of 19 children and two adults at a Uvalde, Texas, school — as a new way forward.

In the months since, the law has had some success, with increased FBI background checks blocking gun sales to 119 buyers under the age of 21, increased prosecutions of unlicensed gun dealers, and at least 30 new fines for gun dealers nationwide. Millions of new dollars flowed into children’s mental health services and schools.

But the persistence of mass shootings in the United States underscores the limits of what Congress can do. Because the law was a political compromise, it did not address many Democratic gun control priorities, including universal background checks or a ban on “assault weapons” that Biden has repeatedly called for.

Now, in the wake of the Nashville shooting, Congress appears to have returned to familiar gridlock. One of the main Republican negotiators on the gun law, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said a new compromise was unlikely. In the House of Representatives, the new GOP majority favors fewer gun restrictions, not more.

Asked Thursday about the way forward, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said legislation alone cannot solve the problem of gun violence. He said Americans need to think deeply about mental illness and other factors that drive people to act out.

In contrast, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York said Congress must “act with fierce urgency.”

“Our classrooms have turned into killing fields,” he said. “Is that acceptable in America?”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, the lead negotiator of the 2022 bill, says it represents a paradigm shift in how Congress approaches gun legislation. But, he said, “I don’t think it’s going to happen right away.”

“It’s disgusting, but opportunities for legislative change usually come after really horrific mass shootings,” said Murphy, who was a leading Senate advocate for gun control after the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. “I hate that, I wish it wasn’t the way it works.”

Tensions were high on both sides of the Capitol last week.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jamal Bowman, R-N.Y., stood outside the House chamber and shouted that Republicans were “cowards” for not doing more on gun control, eventually arguing with Rep. Thomas Massey, R-Chicago, who advocated allowing teachers to carry weapons.

“More guns lead to more deaths!” Bowman yelled at Massey. “Children are dying!”

In the Senate, Republican Ted Cruz of Texas tried to force a vote Thursday on legislation that would increase the police presence in schools. He virtually blamed Democrats, who blocked the same legislation last year, for the Nashville shooting and called the 2022 law “senseless.” Murphy angrily objected to Cruz’s bill, arguing that Cruz was not serious about the compromise and that his move was a stunt for the cameras.

Despite the disappointment, lawmakers who negotiated the compromise last year say they see glimmers of hope.

Murphy said the implementation of the new law and some of its early successes will eventually convince Republicans to pass more legislation.

“What happened last year was seismic for Republicans,” Murphy said.

In terms of the bill’s success, “People aren’t excited about mass shootings that haven’t happened,” Murphy said, and that can be a problem when they talk about it and think about what else can be done. But the dynamic could change quickly, he said.

While Republicans in the past may have tried to shy away from gun measures even as they supported them, Cornyn and Sen. Tom Tillis, RN.C., have promoted the new law and often debated it. Late last year, they, along with Murphy, Sen. Joe Manchin of DW.Va. and FBI Director Christopher Wray visited an FBI facility in West Virginia for a briefing on how background checks work.

“I’m proud that this common sense law is already making a difference,” Tillis said in a statement afterward.

According to recent data obtained by The Associated Press, those flagged for increased background checks and barred from buying guns included an 18-year-old from Nebraska who made terroristic threats and was prone to violent outbursts, a 20-year-old drug dealer in the state Arizona and an 18-year-old in Arizona who was previously charged with illegal possession of a weapon and was found with fentanyl. Everyone tried to buy long guns.

Tillis said he is aware of a separate case in his home state where a person under the age of 21 charged with assault and battery on a police officer was flagged and prevented from purchasing a gun.

“This is just one of those bills that will age well,” Tillis said, noting that the number of gun sales denials is a very small percentage of total sales.

Cornyn said that so far the bill “seems to be working.” But he said he doesn’t expect Congress to go any further anytime soon. He said he would strongly oppose an “assault weapons” ban as proposed by Biden.

When Biden and other lawmakers talk about “assault weapons,” they’re using a vague term to describe a group of high-powered rifles or semi-automatic long rifles like AR-15s that can fire 30 rounds without reloading. .

Most Republicans strongly oppose such a ban, arguing that it would be too difficult, especially as sales and types of firearms have increased. There are many more of these powerful weapons today than there were in 1994, when the ban was signed by President Bill Clinton.

Law-abiding citizens own such weapons, Cornyn said, and “no law-abiding citizen poses a threat to public safety.”

Despite the current stalemate, John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group, says last year’s bill is proof that they can break the deadlock.

“It was never the finish line,” he said.


Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Kevin Freking and Farnoosh Amiri contributed to this report.


Previous articleStore manager, FOID owner shoots would-be robber
Next articleGovernor of Illinois J. B. Pritzker declares a natural disaster after tornadoes and storms cause damage