Small steps on gun control but even those are faltering

Following the recent spate of mass shootings, there were very small sign that there might be some movement on enacting gun control measures. Rather than their usual reflexive refusal to even consider that there was a problem that needed to be addressed, the Republican party said that they might be open to taking some measures and some of their senators started negotiations with Democrats on possible legislation.

The framework they came up with was pitifully small in its scope.

The first step in understanding the new legislative framework on gun violence that a bipartisan group of senators agreed to on Sunday is grasping how its Republican participants see it. “This is not about creating new restrictions on law-abiding citizens,” Senator John Cornyn, who led the Republican side, said last week. “It’s about insuring that the system we already have in place works as intended.”

In other words, the Republicans insisted that the current free-for-all essentially be left in place, while accepting some secondary reforms that will not enrage the gun lobby sufficiently to spell doom for their future in the G.O.P. That limited framework means no ban on assault weapons or high-capacity cartridges, which President Biden has repeatedly called for. No direct expansion of background checks to online sales and gun shows, which the senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey proposed in 2013. And no equalizing of the age at which young people can buy handguns and semi-automatic rifles. (The age requirement for purchasing handguns from licensed dealers is twenty-one; for rifles, it’s eighteen.)

The proposals were far less than what the House of Representatives passed by a vote of 223-204 but it was not nothing.

The proposal includes support for state crisis intervention orders, funding for school safety resources, an enhanced review process for buyers under the age of 21 and penalties for straw purchasing.

Critically, the legislation includes a so-called red flag provision, with the government providing “resources to states and tribes to create and administer laws that help ensure deadly weapons are kept out of the hands of individuals whom a court has determined to be a significant danger to themselves or others,” according to the release. The proposal would also include “major investments to increase access to mental health and suicide prevention programs; and other support services available in the community, including crisis and trauma intervention and recovery.”

Additionally, the legislation would provide resources “to expand mental health and supportive services in schools, including: early identification and intervention programs and school based mental health and wrap-around services.”

And it would address an area Republicans have focused on in recent weeks: school security. The lawmakers said in their release that the proposal provides money “to help institute safety measures in and around primary and secondary schools,” while also supporting “school violence prevention efforts” and training for school employees and students.

As for the enhanced review process for buyers under 21, the lawmakers said the proposal “requires an investigative period to review juvenile and mental health records, including checks with state databases and local law enforcement.”

The most promising aspect are the expanded support for so-called ‘Red Flag’ laws.

The new agreement increases funding for mental health and school safety, but its centerpiece is a new federal grant program designed to encourage states to introduce “red-flag laws,” which empower judges, usually at the request of local law-enforcement authorities, to issue orders that keep guns away from people they deem a threat to themselves or others. As I noted back in 2018, the spread of state red-flag laws has been one of the few glimmers of hope in the gun-control impasse. In the wake of the massacre at Parkland High School, the G.O.P.-controlled Florida legislature passed one. Today, somewhat different versions of them are on the books in nineteen states and Washington, D.C.

They seem to work reasonably well. Since the passage of the measure in Florida, “judges have acted more than 8,000 times to keep guns out of the hands of people authorities deemed a risk to themselves or others,” CNN reports. Researchers at U.C. Davis looked at hundreds of restraining orders issued under California’s red-flag law, which went into effect in 2016. They found that more than three-quarters of the orders involved cases of potential harm to others, and nearly thirty per cent of them involved mass-shooting threats. “The findings suggest [red-flag orders] are being used as intended—to remove firearms from individuals threatening to harm themselves, their intimate partners, co-workers, classmates or the general public,” Veronica Pear, one of the authors of the study, said.

Despite the minimal nature of these proposals, gun control advocates backed the proposed framework, likely seeing it as breeching the wall of support for unlimited gun access.

Gun control activists responded mostly positively to the agreement on Sunday.

March for Our Lives, the student-led movement focused on gun violence prevention, said it welcomes the proposed reforms.

“In a less broken society, we would be able to require background checks every single time someone wants to buy a gun, and we would ban assault rifles outright,” said David Hogg, one of the group’s co-founders and a survivor of the 2018 Parkland school shooting, in a statement. “But if even one life is saved or one attempted mass shooting is prevented because of these regulations, we believe that it is worth fighting for.”

I was not sure if the Republicans were genuine in their efforts or stalling for time until the heat died down, though of course more mass shootings will occur because this is America that views such things as normal. My fears were raised when the lead Republican negotiator senator John Cornyn of Texas left the talks to go home saying that the talks had stalled.

But in the days since, the talks have become bogged down in disagreements over two main provisions: how to provide incentives to states to create so-called red flag laws, in which guns can be temporarily taken away from people deemed dangerous, and the “boyfriend loophole,” allowing authorities to block abusive spouses from buying firearms, but does not cover people who aren’t married.

There are reports that the gun lobby is exerting pressure on Republicans to not even take these minimal steps.

Let’s face the facts. Republicans simply do not care how many innocent people and children die because of the almost unrestricted to guns. What they care about is to have more gun money flowing in.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    The involvement of John Cornyn raises a red flag about stalling and goal-post-moving to come -- every time…

  2. billseymour says

    The involvement of John Cornyn raises a red flag …

    Maybe states need some red-flag laws to keep words out of the mouths of folks who are dangerous to their brains and others’.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Just as a comparison, Canada has fairly relaxed firearms legislation. <a href=""&gt; Licensing Process This is not an official gov’t site just the first decent one I stumbled upon. I suspect it makes the process sound a bit easier than it actually is but, in general, it looks accurate.

    Processing a firearms licence application involves a variety of background checks. In some cases, in-depth investigations are conducted. The RCMP requires a minimum of 45 days to process a firearms licence application.

    If the Government passes new legislation, it will soon be impossible to buy or sell handguns. Existing handgun owners will be grandfathered. I hope the Gov’t has a decent buy-back for current owners. A friend of mine who is a competitive IPSIC shooter has a small fortune invested in his handguns.

    This procedure is for something like a shotgun or .22. It is a whole different and further matter if you want a restricted weapon licence for something such as an AK-15 assuming the regulations will even allow you to buy one.

  4. moarscienceplz says

    If traffic lights were being invented now, instead of about a century ago, I bet the GOP would oppose them, too. “How dare the gummint tell me when I can or can’t drive through a busy intersection!”

  5. Holms says

    #3 jrk
    You’re comparing Canada’s firearms legislation to that of USA, and you’re calling Canada’s ‘relaxed’??

  6. jrkrideau says

    @5 Holms
    Relaxed compared to Australia or especially Japan. 🙂 Probably relaxed compared to the rest of the OECD. The USA, basically has no gun control.

  7. brightmoon says

    And NYC just lost its ability to restrict open carry ( sigh) due to the Supreme Court

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