Democrats in Washington believe they have the 60 votes they need to proceed to a debate on gun control legislation, after a number of Republicans agreed not to support a filibuster following a deal on background checks for gun purchases being announced on Wednesday by Republican Senator Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania) and Democrat Joe Manchin (West Virginia).
According to The Hill, “The proposal would expand background checks to cover all sales at gun shows and over the Internet. Those background checks would have to be accompanied by records proving to law enforcement officials they took place.”
“It would exempt gun sales and transfers between friends and acquaintances without the help of an online intermediary.”
“The events at Newtown, surely the events at Newtown, changed us all,” said Senator Manchin, referring to the mass shooting in Connecticut that killed 20 elementary school children in December.
At the state level, California Senate Democrats announced a coalition of supporters for the LIFE Act, a bill package to close several loopholes in existing regulations, to keep firearms and ammunition out of the wrong hands, and to strengthen education on gun ownership.
Senator Leland Yee’s (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) SB 47 is one of the eight bills that make up the LIFE Act, which would close a loophole in the California Assault Weapons Ban. Currently, many military-style assault weapons have a feature known as a “bullet button,” which allow a shooter to continuously fire and reload without interruption.
Senator Yee is also carrying SB 108, which would require firearms be safely stored using a trigger lock or gun safe while no adult is on the property where the weapon is located.
“The prevalence of deadly, military-style weapons in our society has resulted in countless tragedies,” said Senator Yee. “It is past time to put some common sense laws into place in order to prevent such tragedies in the future. The LIFE Act is a bold step forward in this effort.”
According to a release, The Coalition behind the LIFE Act is made up of teachers, medical professionals, faith-based advocates, grassroots organizing and experts in gun violence.
Members include the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Bend the Arc: A Jewish Alliance for Justice, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, California Church Impact, California Federation of Teachers, Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice, CA (CLUE CA), the Courage Campaign, CREDO Action, Doctors for America, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and PICO.
“California has a history of pioneering legislation to protect its people. The LIFE Act would make dramatic strides in reducing gun violence and reclaim California’s standing as the national leader in gun safety. As Washington continues to dither, California must act,” said Rick Jacobs, Chair and Founder, CourageCampaign.org, one of the groups backing the effort.
“We are concerned with protecting students, educators and all who work or volunteer in our schools,” said Jeff Freitas, Secretary-Treasurer of California Federation of Teachers. “We’ve witnessed the harm at Newtown, Columbine, Virginia Tech and other educational institutions. The California Federation of Teachers is interested in putting many layers of protection between students and those who might harm them. We are proud to join this remarkable coalition of progressive groups. Our history of working together on the Millionaires Tax and Proposition 30 speaks for itself. “
“Over the past two decades, California has enacted the strongest gun laws in the country and our firearm mortality rate has dropped 51%,” added Amanda Wilcox, the Legislation & Policy Chair of the California Brady Campaign. “Still there are approximately 6,000 people shot each year in California and nearly half of them die. We believe these LIFE Act bills represent a comprehensive approach that will close loopholes and keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people. The LIFE Act will help save even more lives.”
“It is an honor for CLUE CA to partner with the Courage Campaign in a joint effort to prevent gun violence,” said Rev. Art Cribbs, Executive Director, CLUE CA (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, California). “What will it take for the legislature to demonstrate courageous leadership and act to protect the citizens of our beloved state? We have witnessed gun violence for too long.”
“Earlier this year just weeks after the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut, a lone gunman began shooting students at Taft High School in the Central Valley, critically wounding one boy and threatening others,” he said. “Two students were killed and 13 others were wounded in Santana High School in San Diego in 2001. In 1989 inside a Stockton elementary school yard, five little children were shot to death, 29 others were injured, and a teacher was killed. 21 people were shot and killed, including five children and 19 other people were wounded in 1989 at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro.”
He added, “San Francisco City Hall was the site of a double murder in 1978 when Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were gunned down in their offices. The long list of gun violence reveals a harrowing epic of unabated mayhem. All of it preventable. Now is the time to stop the senseless, legal access to assault weapons. For the sake of humankind, let California lead the way toward a safer, more sane society.”
As Senator Manchin indicated, the Democrats since 1994 and 2000 have been reluctant to take on the gun lobby, but that has now changed, due to the tragedy at Newtown.
Democratic Congressional Whip Steny Hoyer conceded on Wednesday, “The party took a political beating following enactment of the 1994 assault weapons ban – particularly in gun-friendly states like Washington, Michigan, Arkansas and West Virginia – which limited the Democrats’ appetite to tackle the issue for many years afterward.”
“In the 1994 election, the assault weapons bill played a significant role, … and I think it probably played a role in 2000,” Representative Hoyer said Wednesday during a press briefing in the Capitol. “Newtown created a different dynamic, to see these 20 children with five to eight, nine, 10 bullets in each one of them.”
“Americans believe, and the Court has said, they have a right to have guns – handguns and long-guns, rifles,” Representative Hoyer said. “But the Court said some constraints are constitutional, and I think the public believes that certain restraints make sense. So I think we’ll get some change in that regard.”
The Hill notes that the NRA supported “an even broader expansion of background checks following the 1999 massacre in Columbine, [but] has since reversed course to oppose any such extension.”
They quickly condemned the compromise bill as ineffective.
“Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime and will not keep our kids safe in schools,” the NRA said in a brief statement.
Speaker of the House John Boehner said on Wednesday, “As I’ve made clear, any bill that passes the Senate, we’re going to review it. In the meantime, we’re going to continue to have hearings looking at the source of violence in our country. We’re going to wait and see what actually passes over in the Senate.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting