WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, including Texan John Cornyn, announced Sunday the framework for a legislative deal to address gun violence in the aftermath of the May 24 mass shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead at a Uvalde elementary school.
The tentative deal includes a mix of modest gun control proposals and funding for mental health. It would incentivize states to pass “red flag” laws, which are designed to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others; boost funding for mental health services, telehealth resources and more school security; permit juvenile records to be incorporated into background checks for purchasers under the age of 21 and crack down on the straw purchase and trafficking of guns.
A Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful released a gun plan Friday that includes support for an assault weapons ban and universal and expanded background checks. New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she also supports enacting red flag laws and raising the minimum age to purchase a rifle to 21.
“This epidemic has claimed the lives of too many innocent Americans–far too many of them children–and it is well beyond time for Congress to act to protect Americans from the scourge of gun violence,” Toulouse Oliver said in her gun safety plan. “In the U.S. Senate, I will fight for common-sense gun-safety legislation as if my own children’s lives depended on it–because they do.”
Toulouse Oliver cites the rise in mass shootings, including the shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio that left more than 30 people dead and dozens more injured, as reasons why to reimplement a ban on assault weapons—and to expand the definition of assault weapons to include AR-15-style guns. When it comes to background checks, Toulouse Oliver says they should extend to all gun purchases—and that such background checks should include information on the online history of the person seeking a background check and extending background checks to close relatives and other members of the household. Toulouse Oliver also calls for restoring funding for researching the effects of gun violence.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich has sought to repeal the Dickey Amendment, which bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence and its impact on public health.
Legislators are pressing ahead with a slate of gun control bills that would require background checks for virtually all firearm sales and add to the categories of offenders who would be prohibited from possessing a gun at all. Proponents argue these bills will close loopholes and help keep guns out of the hands of those who have committed violent crimes or are in crisis. But critics argue the laws will prove unenforceable, ineffective and will undermine the right to bear arms.
The measures come with a sense of urgency after mass shootings around the country and in New Mexico have spurred calls for tighter limits on obtaining firearms.
But even with Democrats holding a 46-24 majority in the House, any major gun control measures will face opposition as well as wary moderates. In turn, Democrats are focusing on a few sets of policies they argue are effective enough to win support for finally passing a bill after years of watching legislation be watered down or blocked altogether. Instead of calling for bans on so-called bump stocks or high-capacity magazines, lawmakers so far are focusing on expanding background checks and tightening limits on the rights of domestic violence offenders to possess guns.
Following the latest mass shooting, one of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators wants to repeal an amendment that bars the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence and its impact on public health. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich announced his opposition to the Dickey Amendment Tuesday, saying that CDC research is necessary to help find solutions to curb gun violence. “I am calling for the repeal of the Dickey Amendment because I am fed up with tragedies like the mass shootings in Parkland, Las Vegas, and Aztec,” Heinrich said. I am also heartsick over the estimated 91 Americans killed each day by gun violence.”
The Dickey Amendment, implemented in 1996, specifically stopped the CDC from using any funds to “advocate or promote gun control.” The National Rifle Association was a driving force behind the amendment at the time. The amendment itself is gaining attention, as mass shootings have increased over recent years, and debate over why has no authority to look back on.
It’s predictable after every new mass-shooting horror: The political right’s reflexive call for “thoughts and prayers,” which is then mocked by people who favor more gun restrictions for lacking any accompanying ideas for preventing future killings. But there’s an equally predictable refrain on the center-left and in the media, too: “Once again, nothing will be done.”
Barely had the death toll of 17 been announced last week after the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida than The Washington Post declared, “The gun debate is going nowhere quickly after Parkland.” CNN offered: “Amid continued string of mass shootings, gun control going nowhere in Congress.” After 59 concert-goers were mowed down in October, former Democratic congressman Steve Israel put to rest any hope for reform in a New York Times op-ed column titled “Nothing Will Change After the Las Vegas Shooting.”
This fatalism is borne of hard-won experience. Congress has failed repeatedly to pass any gun-control measures after past calamities, even the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.Yet this world-weary defeatism is self-fulfilling in its own way, and helps explain why Washington hasn’t taken action to address the killing. For one thing, such pessimism demoralizes, and dismisses, those who are motivated to fight against gun violence, such as the network of angry moms that sprung up after the Sandy Hook massacre and the organization led by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, which have managed to achieve a series of state-level successes even as reform stalls at the national level. For another thing, it lets off the hook those who are opposed to stronger gun laws.
One of New Mexico’s U.S. Senators introduced legislation that would make sure those convicted of domestic violence offenses in the military cannot own a firearm. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat, worked with U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican, on sponsoring the legislation. Both men described the bill as one that can pass with bipartisan support and will have a real-world impact. They introduced the bill in response to the fact that the man who killed over two dozen men, women and children in a Sutherland Springs, Texas church was convicted of assault against his wife and step-child and discharged for bad conduct while a member of the U.S. Air Force. The alleged murderer was still able to buy guns despite a federal ban preventing those convicted of domestic violence from buying firearms.
But there is no specification in the Uniform Code of Military Justice for domestic assault, Flake said, only for assault. Because of this, the military has not been reporting convictions of what would be classified as domestic assault in non-military courts to a federal database of domestic abusers meant to prevent them from owning weapons.
What began as a bipartisan compromise bill to ban people from openly carrying guns in the state Capitol is now bogged down in the Senate and at risk of being defeated. Senate Bill 337 would restrict possession of guns in the Capitol to police officers and people with a license to carry a concealed firearm. Sponsored by Sens. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, and Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, the bill cleared two Senate committees after being pitched as a way to balance the rights of law-abiding people who want to arm themselves and the impact on visitors to the Capitol who said they were intimidated by others openly carrying firearms, including long guns. The bill has been on the legislative calendar for a vote by the full, 42-member Senate for a week.
Partially paralyzed and speaking in just a few simple sentences, a former U.S. congresswoman shot in the head six years ago during a rampage that left a half-dozen people dead delivered the most high-profile endorsement yet of two gun-control bills being considered in the New Mexico Legislature. “I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line,” Gabrielle Giffords told a crowd of reporters and gun-control advocates at the Capitol on Wednesday. “Now is the time to come together — to be responsible. Democrats, Republicans, everyone.” Giffords’ appearance at the Legislature demonstrated the campaign for gun control is not letting up during the final weeks of the session.
A 29-year-old Albuquerque man was accused of firing a .45-caliber pistol multiple times at a car carrying a couple and their 2-month-old baby. Last year, the man was charged with several felonies stemming from the September 2015 incident in Northern New Mexico. He pleaded not guilty and was released from jail on bond. One of the conditions of his release prohibited him from possessing firearms.
Just two weeks later, however, the suspect responded to an online ad for an AK WASR-10 rifle. He repeatedly called and texted the would-be seller, offering to pay $300 in cash.
House Democrats staged a sit-in that lasted well into Thursday morning. The two Democrats in hte U.S. House from New Mexico took part in the sit-in. The Democrats sought a vote on a piece of legislation related to guns dubbed “no fly, no buy” which would bar those on terror watchlists from purchasing guns
The Democrats did not get their way when it came to a vote on the bill before the House adjourned for a recess for the 4th of July, but did get a likely secondary objective: a confrontation with House Republican leadership. Sen. Udall, Rep. Lujan Grisham and I on floor calling for vote to keep guns out of the hands of suspected terrorists pic.twitter.com/ZkCE4nxcWA — Ben Ray Lujan (@repbenraylujan) June 22, 2016 The bill itself has a New Mexico connection—U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich is one of those who negotiated the compromise with Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. Heinrich said the sit-in could be helpful.