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Elizabeth Warren introduces sweeping gun safety bill with licensing, universal background checks, and an assault-weapons ban

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during the 2020 Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas in October.
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks during the 2020 Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas in October.Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Senator Elizabeth Warren on Thursday introduced comprehensive and aggressive gun safety legislation, including a federal gun licensing system, universal background checks, and a ban on military-style assault weapons, to address what she called the “deadly crisis” of gun violence.

The Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act, with companion legislation to be introduced in the House by Representative by Hank Johnson of Georgia, incorporates several existing Senate bills that have gone nowhere in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Warren’s bill also is unlikely to even get a hearing in the Senate, but lays down a marker by the presidential candidate of the steps Democrats would try to take on gun safety if they win control of Congress and the White House in the November elections.

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“This big, bold proposal — which combines and builds upon a number of common-sense measures introduced by my colleagues in Congress — would treat the epidemic of gun violence in the United States like the public health crisis that it is, help protect our children, and make our communities safer,” Warren said. “With approximately 100 Americans killed every day from gun violence, it’s long past time for Congress to stand up to the gun lobby and confront this deadly crisis head-on.”

The legislation would require people who want to purchase a firearm to have a federal- or state-issued license, undergo a background check, and wait seven-days to complete a purchase. The minimum age to purchase any weapon or ammunition would be increased to 21 years old. A ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004, would be reinstated, and bulk gun purchases also would be prohibited to address gun trafficking.

If the bill becomes law, it would hold the gun industry accountable by stating that manufacturers could face civil penalties if their guns cause harm, Warren said.

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She touted support from the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, and a host of organizations, including the student-led gun safety group March for Our Lives.

The bill includes provisions from legislation by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, including licensing laws and expanded violence prevention research. Warren’s bill, which Markey is cosponsoring, would allocate $100 million in annual funding for federal research into gun violence and provide an additional $100 million each year for gun violence intervention programs.

“Whether through a mass shooting, day-to-day gun violence, or a firearm-inflicted suicide, nearly every community in Massachusetts and across the country has lost blood because of the scourge of gun violence,” Markey said. “We need to treat gun violence like the public health crisis it is."

President Trump and most congressional Republicans have opposed even incremental gun safety measures amid strong lobbying by the National Rifle Association. Trump issued a veto threat last year for a bill that passed the Democratic-controlled House that would expand background checks. Trump argued it would “impose burdensome requirements on certain firearm transactions.”

In unveiling her bill in the days before the Iowa caucuses, Warren touted earlier legislation she introduced to enact ethics, lobbying, and anti-corruption measures “to break the stranglehold of the National Rifle Association and other big-money groups on Congress and pass critical reforms to protect Americans, including common-sense gun laws.”

Gun violence killed almost 40,000 people in the US in 2017, the highest that number has been since 1968, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Massachusetts is among the states with the lowest rate of gun fatalities, but the gun death rate in the US is much higher than in other developed nations.