Congress is moving closer to passing gun safety legislation. On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators were discussing urging states to pass red flag laws, expand background checks that include access to records of minors, and raise age requirements for purchasing guns.
Schools, churches, synagogues and grocery stores have been the scene of mass murders, most recently an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The dead shooter seems to have been a familiar guy who plagues random victims and our nation – friendless and isolated. Like the others, Uvalde’s killer had easy access to powerful weaponry, including the mass murderer’s weapon of choice, an AR-15 rifle.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution refers to a well-regulated militia as a predicate of the right to bear arms. No militia, well-regulated or not, would want one of these monsters as a member. There are more guns than people in the United States. We have the right to draw lines and impose restrictions. A segment of our population continues to equate broad freedoms with the right to own firearms. They are a small segment of our citizens, but they are vocal, persistent and vote in Republican primaries.
Matthew McConaughey, the Oscar-winning actor who grew up in Uvalde, traveled to Washington to make the essential point: a vast majority of Americans want our government to keep powerful weapons out of the hands of murderous lunatics. McConaughey pointed out that the middle ground of American opinions is filled with people who agree. What he didn’t say is that it’s also the loneliest place if you’re looking for leaders.
Negotiations in Washington include the two US senators from Connecticut, Christopher Murphy and Richard Blumenthal for the Democrats. They have resigned themselves to incrementalism. Blumenthal has been at the forefront of defending and, it seems, developing red flag legislation, which allows someone who sees behavior that indicates danger to themselves or others to ask law enforcement or a court to intervene. These laws could become more effective as mass murderers continue to publish their intentions on the Internet.
The only controversy over raising the age to purchase an assault weapon from 18 to 21 should be the reason it wasn’t done a long time ago. Negotiators are considering giving law enforcement officials access to a gun buyer’s juvenile records as part of an expanded background check. Life doesn’t start at 18 or 21. Connecticut has gone through the ordeal of policies based on the premise that there is no information to be acquired by law enforcement officials or judges with access to juvenile records.
Some states impose a waiting period between the date of purchase of a weapon and the day the buyer is authorized to take possession of it. A waiting period can allow time for a murderous impulse to diminish or, more often for handgun purchases, to thwart a suicide. Waiting periods are not part of the negotiations in the Senate.
There will be a lot of money wasted around any bill Congress passes to get states to act. One to include: no money for states that guarantee gun retail – like Connecticut. Less than a year after the 2012 Sandy Hook School massacre, former Governor Dannel P. Malloy provided more than $30 million in state assistance to Bass Pro Shops to build a store and sell guns in Bridgeport – at the same time the city was engaged in a gun buyback program. Bass Pro Shops sold assault weapons in states that had not banned them, which is most states.
Murphy and Blumenthal raised no objection to the state providing a massive subsidy to a gun retailer while they were in Washington raging against gun proliferation. They were joined in silence by all other state officials.
NBC News political reporter Jonathan Allen on Tuesday’s Bulwark podcast provided a simple way to gauge the seriousness of any bill that makes it through the Senate. The more likely senators are “to do something, the less they do.” A bill that wins the minimum 60 votes will have more effective reforms than one that wins 70.
In the aftermath of Uvalde, the public cried out for something to be done. If senators who are in the thrall of outspoken gun advocates vote for a proposal, it will signal, unfortunately, not that the message has finally got through, but that the compromise is on the verge of no longer making sense.