The handful of gun safety measures at the heart of an announced bipartisan agreement are more outline than legislation right now, more aspirational than transformational. But it’s a start — and that’s more than a closely divided Senate has been able to produce in more than two decades.
That it took the recent loss of the lives of 19 children and two teachers at a Texas elementary school, and 10 Black people targeted by a racist gunman at a Buffalo supermarket, to move this modest measure speaks to the still deep divisions over real gun control. And, of course, even this has already run into the usual no-gun-control, no-way, no-how crowd — namely the National Rifle Association and those in Congress who do their bidding.
But there is real value in measures like closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole” after numerous failed attempts, and even if the measure doesn’t call for a national red flag law, at least it would provide incentives for states to adopt them. And surely there’s no downside to allocating funds for mental health services and school safety measures.
In diplomatic circles these would be called “confidence building” measures — small steps that might encourage the negotiating parties to take the next step and the one after that. In this case, the agreement announced in a joint letter has already been signed by 20 senators — 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans, led by Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, and John Cornyn, Republican of Texas.
“Today, we are announcing a common-sense, bipartisan proposal to protect America’s children, keep our schools safe, and reduce the threat of violence across our country,” the statement said. “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.”
The agreement came days after 11-year old Miah Cerrillo, a survivor of the massacre at Robb Elementary School, testified in a pre-recorded video played at a congressional hearing.
“He shot my teacher and told my teacher good night and shot her in the head. And then he shot some of my classmates and the white board,” she told the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Miah also testified about how she covered herself in the blood of a classmate to avoid being shot herself. She then grabbed her teacher’s phone and dialed 911 to plead for help.
No child should have to endure what Miah and her classmates witnessed. No family should have to endure the pain that those who lost children or loved ones on that day have experienced.
The agreement reached over the weekend comes with no guarantees that it will prevent the next mass shooting. But it might — and that’s reason enough to support it.
Red flag laws — laws that authorize courts to issue orders allowing police to confiscate guns from those deemed a danger to themselves or others — are no panacea, but they can help. In Massachusetts, for example, only 48 “extreme risk petitions” have been issued since the law passed in 2018, according to the Trial Court and originally reported in the Lawrence Eagle Tribune.
And the Senate agreement as outlined would only provide financial incentives for more states to adopt such laws as 17 states already have — most of them, like Massachusetts, in the wake of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Closing the boyfriend loophole would prohibit those from owning or buying a gun who had been convicted of domestic violence against a dating partner. Currently the law applies only to those convicted of abuse against a married partner or someone they are living with or have had a child with. An attempt earlier this year to close the loophole as part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act met with so much Republican opposition that Democrats were forced to remove the provision in order to pass the bill.
The eventual gun safety legislation would also put some additional restrictions on gun purchases by those between the ages of 18 and 21, requiring a look-back at juvenile court and mental health records. To what extent, though, remains a matter of ongoing negotiations.
It certainly falls short of the prohibition on sales of semiautomatic weapons to those under age 21 put forward in a recent House-passed bill. Then again, that effort has no chance of passage in the Senate.
This is a time for doing what is possible — even if it is not all that so many hope for and continue to work for. And it is critical to see this through to passage in a timely fashion — before Congress’s annual July 4 recess, and before the consciences touched by the deaths of so many children harden again.
It is progress — and that makes it a good first step.
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