Congress has approved gun legislation negotiated by a bipartisan committee of Senators, and it has now been sent to President Biden for his signature.
All 50 Democratic senators voted in favor as did 14 Republicans, and they all are patting themselves on the back, applauding their "quick" response to the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, NY and Uvalde, TX.
Previously I predicted that this bipartisan committee would pass nothing. This crisis required serious thinkers and serious legislation and, instead, we got politics as usual, and a bill that is hardly better than doing nothing at all.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that someone passionate, like Chris Murphy, doesn’t honestly think he reached a reasonable compromise on the progressive side. I’m not suggesting anything different of John Cornyn on the conservative side. He was soundly booed by members of his own party for even considering gun reform of any kind. Gun legislation is a tough issue for a conservative in Congress. But I am suggesting that the country needed real change on these issues and got more of the same and, worse, a political recipe for disaster.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act falls far short of fixing the problem and although top Republicans in the House tried to defeat it, with the Democratic majority it was approved by the House today and now awaits the president's signature. The bill’s negotiators called the bill “commonsense legislation” that would “save lives” while not violating the 2nd Amendment.
I’ll let you in a little secret: It is difficult for gun control legislation to violate the 2nd Amendment, because it has been proven, time and again, that the Amendment is subject to broad changes and interpretations. Those who take a highly progressive view of the Amendment do not think the new bill goes far enough. Hard right conservatives believe any controls are unconstitutional gun rights infringements.
Under this new legislation we will now have:
$750 million allocated to funding for crisis centers and so-called red flag laws, which allow authorities to confiscate guns from individuals deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.
Closing of the so-called “boyfriend loophole,” adding a boyfriend who lives apart from his girlfriend to the list of “significant others” who live in the same household and whose domestic abuse conviction prevent gun purchases. If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is confusing.
Expanded background checks for potential buyers under the age of 21. The new law requires three business days for a check into the buyer’s criminal and mental health history. If something fishy is discovered the legislation allows another seven days to check further.
Determinations that are to be made at some type of in-person hearing before an unbiased adjudicator, with both sides permitted to present evidence and confront adverse witnesses.
Funding for mental health and school security. $330 million has been allocated to increase school security under the measure and “unspecified” funding is to be provided for mental health initiatives, including the national suicide prevention line.
Legislation that requires more sellers to register as licensed dealers, including anyone who sells guns for a profit. These sellers would have to comply with the law, and “straw buyers” who buy guns for those who would not otherwise qualify to purchase a gun, will be subject to unstated penalties.
So, how does all this sound to you? To me, it sounds like more of the same nonsense that got us into this mess in the first place. I must confess that I am not a gun user or purchaser; I could care less whether this country banned all weapons, except for one important little “nuance”: We have a Constitution in this country and the 2nd Amendment is part of our Constitution.
On the other hand, public safety trumps the 2nd Amendment. To be constitutional then, the public safety must be at substantial risk. No one is arguing that mass shootings aren’t terrible or that the criminals who commit them should not be punished. But laws like this tend to punish innocent gun owners rather than criminals.
In San Francisco and New York for example, people who commit crimes with guns are released without bail, but laws like this Safer Communities Act restrict the rights of those who have committed no crime. This behavior on the left of the debate is what so often turns blue-collar gun owners against the Democratic Party. In most cases, Democrats and blue-collar workers see eye-to-eye until the latter sees stuff like this. Think I’m losing my mind? Becoming a conservative? Think again. But comments like this one from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez drive me wild:
[After Columbine] “We hired thousands of police officers into schools, and while it didn’t prevent many of the mass shootings that we’ve seen now, it has increased the criminalization of teens in communities like mine.” She expressed concerns about “the expansion of background checks into juvenile records.”
If a person has a criminal past, especially involving a gun, why the hell should I care whether he is young, middle aged, old, white, black, gay, straight, or what ethnicity they happen to be? I don’t want that person to be able to purchase a gun!
AOC’s thinking is what drives law-abiding gun owners and buyers mad—penalize and criminalize criminals, not law-abiding citizens! Perhaps we should treat them more harshly and not coddle them. How about mandatory minimum sentences for crimes committed using guns? No plea bargains, no suspended sentences, no leniency.
Criminals desperately need ‘gun control,’ far more than any law-abiding citizen. Why are Dems so soft on crime but hard on guns? It’s hypocritical, don’t you think? Instead of worthless gun control measures like this one, why don’t our elected officials on both sides of the isle stop patting themselves on the back and investigate the root causes of mass shootings, violence, and hatred that certain people have for their fellow citizens?
Most mass shootings have been committed by people with no criminal record. Here in Michigan, the Oxford High School mass shooter’s parents have been charged with contributing to the crime. I don’t know whether they are culpable or not and I am not a fan of trying and convicting someone in the press before they’ve had their day in court.
However, mental health, parenting, negligent parenting, ethics, morals, behavior in the home, and in school must be fair game—behavioral traits or trends must be identified and dealt with. I don’t know what role the government plays in this, but moms, dads, schoolteachers, students, and administrators need to play larger roles.
Want another example of my frustration with this band-aid approach? You will notice that the bill offers $330 million to increase school security. There are just over 130,000 schools in the United States. How does this funding break down? Each school will be provided approximately $2,500.00. How will that increase security? Congress funds its own security, the U S Capitol Police, to the tune of $460 million. There are 485 members of congress. That is roughly $10,500 per member, over four times the amount allocated to each school that is full of children, teachers, and administrators. Addressing gun violence in this half-baked way is like penalizing the sober driver for getting hit by a drunk.
Address the Causes
Here’s what I know: The 2nd Amendment was passed in 1791 and guns have been around for the entire history of this country. Mass shootings have only been a “thing” for 30-40 years. What’s the root cause of the rise in mass violence in this country?
Can we address parenting, security, mental health, and how we deal with and provide funding for the mentally ill? We must allocate required funds whenever and wherever they are needed. Federal, state, and local governments must play roles in fully funding our mental health requirements. How can we keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and disturbed? How do we curb or control violence and violent tendencies?
Can we get military-style weapons off the streets? Why does anyone need a gun that shoots dozens of bullets in rapid succession? These are killing machines and effective gun control must include an effort to get all of them off our streets and away from our schools. The 2nd Amendment does not say that anyone can own any kind of gun or as many guns as he or she wants. It just doesn’t say that! These automatic or semi-automatic guns and rifles belong on a military battlefield—nowhere else. Will it be difficult? Sure. Impossible? I don’t know, but we must start somewhere, perhaps one gun at a time.
Do politicians really care about these issues? Do they care what their constituents think? Do they truly want to make a difference or are they just looking to nurse on the public teat for as long as possible? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but here are some from-the-heart suggestions:
The current language of this law would have done nothing to stop the Uvalde massacre.
Upon reflection, I believe red flag laws are dangerous to cops and citizens. They permit law enforcement officials to make these calls without specific guidance. They must be enforced reasonably, fairly, and without bias. What’s to stop a cop or a vengeful spouse or ex-friend from false-flag reporting? In other words, who monitors the monitors?
Funding for school security and mental health initiatives, perhaps the most vital component of this bill, is woefully inadequate.
Raise the minimum purchase age to 21 and ban assault-style rifles and guns.
We must solve the drug problem in this country. Illicit drugs are killing our people at an alarming rate. If you solve the drug problem, solutions to the mass violence problem will follow.
This Bipartisan Safer Communities Act does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of curbing gun violence.
Mark M. Bello is an attorney and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series, ripped-from-the headlines, realistic fiction that speak truth to power and champion the rights of citizens in our justice system. These novels are dedicated to the social justice movement. They educate, spark discussion and inspire readers to action. One of these novels, Betrayal High, was written in response to school shootings. For more information, please visit www.markmbello.com.
Mark also hosts the Justice Counts podcast with Lean to the Left editor & publisher Bob Gatty, presenting bi-weekly interviews focused on social justice.