The shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, has given new impetus to calls for action to be taken on gun control. However, known obstacles – and some new ones – will hamper any reform.
Nearly a decade after a young man shot dead 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a similar tragedy took place at Uwalde Elementary School in Texas. The Sandy Hook shooting sparked calls for national gun reform and sparked an emotional plea for action from then-US President Barack Obama. But efforts to pass gun control legislation in Congress have stalled.
Now, after the deaths of 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, there are similar calls for action by national politicians. President Joe Biden, like Obama, has demanded change.
“Why are we ready to live with this carnage?” He asked. “Why do we keep allowing this to happen? Where, for God’s sake, is our backbone so that we dare to deal with it and face the lobbies?”
While Democrats are controlling both houses of Congress and the presidency this time, efforts to pass new gun control regulations face similar challenges – and new ones that could be even direr.
Here is a look at some potential courses of action and obstacles you will need to overcome.
Old blockades in Congress
In the weeks after Sandy Hook, a majority of U.S. senators backed legislation requiring expanded background checks on gun purchases. However, due to a parliamentary procedure that required at least 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to pass most legislation, a simple majority was not enough.
Today, only a handful of the 50 Republican senators seem open to new weapons legislation, suggesting that all new efforts will face a similar fate. That hasn’t stopped Democrats from considering new proposals and talking about working with Republicans for common ground.
“I think the opportunity is weak, very very weak, too weak,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday about how much the chance of success has changed. “We got burned so many times ago.”
So far, the only proposal supported by Republicans has been the creation of a national database of school safety practices.
However, talks began about doing more, and a handful of Republicans took part. Proposals most strongly include a red flag law that would prevent people with mental illness or a criminal record from buying firearms, and expanded checks on gun buyers, including private sales. Although polls show that a majority of Americans support such efforts, many Republican senators represent states with large communities supporting guns. And the Republican voters, whose support they need to win the primary (each party’s election process), are even more staunch opponents of the reform. Thus, if sentiment does not change among these voters, Republicans are unlikely to change course.
And even if this bill is passed, it could be an imperfect solution. There are mass shootings that “red flags” and past checks could not prevent, and nothing could reduce the 393 million firearms currently in the United States.
The individual states led the initiative
Although congressional efforts were halted in 2015, gun control activists have made significant progress in passing new laws at the state level.
In Connecticut, for example, there was huge support for reform from communities still shaken by the brutality of the Sandy Hook attack. Other Democrat-controlled states – such as New York, Maryland, and California – have passed their legislation and closed the doors to “gun shows”, limited store sizes, and banned the sale of certain types of firearms.
In Vermont in 2018, after a planned assassination attempt on a school was thwarted, Republican Gov. Phil Scott changed his position and worked with Democrats to pass new legislation in the traditionally gun-friendly state. The law, which included raising the age of firearms to 21, limiting magazine sizes, and requiring new inspections, angered many of his former right-wing supporters. However, he easily won the re-election in 2018.
But states that have a political majority to pass gun control regulations have already done so. And in many Republican-controlled states, the gun trend is for less regulation, not more. In April, Georgia became the 25th state – entirely Republican – to allow its residents to carry a concealed handgun without government permission.
Democratic politicians in those states, frustrated by the lack of action, could cite the Uwalde massacre as a reason to react. Former Congressman Beto O’Rorke, a Democrat running for governor of Texas in November, expressed anger at many leftists in the conservative states as he confronted Republican Gov. Greg Abbott at a news conference in Uvalde on Wednesday. “The time to stop the next shooting is now, and you’re doing nothing,” he shouted before Republicans insulted him on stage and threw him out of the building.
Mr. O’Rork spoke to reporters after the event, citing a ban on the sale of assault weapons, universal checks on the past, red flag laws, and safe weapons storage laws as steps his country could take after the attack.
Although many of these provisions enjoy public support, they will all be difficult to pass in Texas. A more likely response would be increased funding for law enforcement and school security measures, such as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s call to provide more weapons to teachers.
The courts are another battlefield
Even if political calculations change in Congress or among states like Texas that have been unwanted or outright hostile to the adoption of gun control legislation, there is a significant and growing obstacle to any attempt at reform – the courts.
In 2008, a narrow majority of 5 to 4 in the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that “the right of people to hold and bear arms should not be violated,” guarantees the personal right to possess a pistol. This interpretation, although hotly debated, has enshrined gun ownership in the text of the constitution itself. And after that decision, the courts only became more supportive.
One of President Donald Trump’s enduring legacies was the appointment of hundreds of conservative judges in federal courts, and he nominated three new Supreme Court judges. Two weeks ago, two Trump-appointed judges in a California appeals court overturned a state law banning the sale of assault rifles to people under the age of 21.
This opinion, if confirmed by the Supreme Court, could be of particular importance, given that the perpetrators in Uvalde, Sandy Hook, and the recent shooting in Buffalo fall into this category. “America would not exist without the heroism of the young people who fought and died in our revolutionary army,” wrote one of the judges. “Today, we reaffirm that our constitution still protects the right that has enabled them to sacrifice themselves – the right of young adults to have and bear arms.”
The Supreme Court appears ready to repeal a law in New York that restricts anyone from obtaining a concealed gun license next month, which may be a threat to similar laws in other states. As gun laws have already been declared unconstitutional, it seems likely that all new laws will also face legal challenges – and may not survive long.
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