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The Long Road to Legislating Guns
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The Long Road to Legislating Guns | OP-ED

It shouldn’t be this hard, especially with children affected, but it is.

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On June 2, 2022, the U.S House of Representatives passed the Protecting Our Kids Act largely along party lines, with five Republicans joining all but two Democrats in voting it on to the Senate. 

It’s a piece of gun legislation that would restrict a number of things around gun usage and access in the U.S. First and foremost, it would ban the sale of most semiautomatic firearms to individuals under 21 years of age. Other measures listed in the bill would establish a legal framework for regulating ghost guns (firearms without serial numbers), subject bump stocks to federal firearm laws, and ban the manufacturing and sale of high-capacity magazine feeders, among other regulations.

There’s only one problem — it will never pass the Senate.

The sweeping reform law was passed through the House on largely symbolic grounds. Symbolic for what you ask? To show that legislators have the power to regulate against some of the things that caused tragedies like Uvalde and Sandy Hook, but they choose not to.

Why do they choose not to? They’re bought and paid for. 

What do I mean by that? When those legislators ran for office, they were given money for their campaigns by organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA), which advocates for gun rights across the country. Amid tragedies like the many to hit the nation over the last month, it’s meant trying to defend gun ownership and taking a hardline when interpreting the U.S.’s Second Amendment.

The slippery slope of guns

The approach is very much a slippery slope in their eyes — any gun legislation regulating any part of owning a firearm is seen as a first step towards eventually taking that firearm away for good.

Take the response from almost every NRA-backed politician when discussing how to stop tragedies like the one that happened in Uvalde. The answers were not less guns, but more. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ (NRA-endorsed) answer to a question from a reporter about potential gun legislation sums up the reasoning pretty well.

“With all due respect to these leftists, they just want to come after your Second Amendment rights,” was his answer, before calling out other common counter points utilized by Republicans to attack Democratic plans. 

When DeSantis’ state was the subject of similar ire for its own tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, Florida passed a measure to arm school staff outside of teachers that “exclusively perform classroom duties,” and then another bill doing away with that distinction, allowing teachers to be armed. 

Ohio has also since passed a bill that cuts the training for teachers to be armed in schools and Louisiana has a similar bill on its docket.

More than symbolic?

At the federal level, while the House bill will perish, a bipartisan group of 20 senators (10 Republicans and 10 Democrats) has since agreed to preliminary terms on what could be the first gun legislation in 30 years.

Led by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, the potential terms of agreement could result in a bill that would grant major funding to states trying to implement red flag laws, billions for mental health and school safety, ban gun purchases to those convicted of spousal abuse, create the first federal law against straw purchasing, implement enhanced background checks for purchasers under 21, and clarify the federal guidelines around who needs to register as a licensed gun dealer.

“Will this bill do everything we need to end our nation’s gun violence epidemic? No. But it’s real, meaningful progress. And it breaks a 30 year log jam, demonstrating that Democrats and Republicans can work together in a way that truly saves lives,” tweeted Murphy after an initial deal was struck.

The bill must still be drafted and passed through both chambers of Congress — a process that will likely also see changes — but the announcement is still a hopeful one in such a dark time.

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