After yet another long and bloody stretch of gun violence, a groundswell of public pressure seems to have gotten through to some Republican members of Congress. A group of ten U.S. senators has finally expressed their willingness to break lockstep with their party’s orthodoxy on gun control. If they follow through, retailers and other businesses can look forward to more legislative support for their own gun safety rules. However, there is still much damage to undo, as the LGBTQ community and other vulnerable groups face renewed threats from right-wing domestic terrorists.
Why the “party of big business” loves the Second Amendment
Anyone who still believes that the Republican and Democratic parties are “both the same” has not been paying attention over the last 20 years or more. On gun control, the Republican party and its allies on the U.S. Supreme Court have been treating the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms as a pseudo-sacred, untouchable provision, even though every other amendment in the Bill of Rights is subject to restriction and interpretation. Even the word “bear” itself is still interpreted as pertaining only to portable firearms, not hand grenades, rocket launchers and other armaments, a contradiction that the pro-gun lobby conveniently skims over.
Coincidentally or not, the Second Amendment is the only item in the Bill of Rights that can be monetized. Alone among the civil rights outlined in the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, exercising the right to bear arms requires a transaction of some kind, whether a purchase, gift, inheritance or other assignment.
The element of purchase and profit explains why the National Rifle Association (NRA) started out as an organization dedicated to “training, education and marksmanship,” only to shift focus during the 20th century as gun manufacturers sought markets outside of military, law enforcement and licensed security.
Today the Second Amendment has become nothing more than a money mill for gun manufacturers and other stakeholders, a major public health threat, and a leading cause of death in the U.S., especially among children and youth.
Calling out the NRA on gun safety and security
The action in the U.S. Senate last weekend represents the first significant attempt to inject some common sense into federal gun control measures in 26 years, after the ban on assault weapons expired in 2004.
On Sunday, a group of 10 Republican U.S. Senators joined with 10 of their Democratic counterparts over the weekend to announce a proposed framework for new gun safety legislation. The group is spearheaded by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX). Both of the senators represent states where some of the most notorious episodes of gun-fueled mass murder in recent years took place: the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, the 2019 El Paso massacre and the Uvalde massacre of May 24.
“Families are scared, and it is our duty to come together and get something done that will help restore their sense of safety and security in their communities,” the group stated in a press release dated June 12.
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Some elements of the new framework do not actually represent a game changing breakthrough on gun control. However, these parts of the framework do undercut the persistent argument that an armed society is a more secure society, by proposing additional funding for mental health resources, school safety and student support.
The additional funding raises the question: If guns make people safer, why do we need more security?
That’s a good question. It puts the ball in the court of the NRA, which has long supported similar safety and security measures.
In fact, just days after the Uvalde massacre, the NRA touted its “School Shield” grant program, which launched after the Sandy Hook school massacre. According to information gathered by independent reporter Judd Legum, NRA funding for the grant program was never particularly robust and it dwindled to a trickle last year.
Pulling the rug out from under the constitutional argument
In addition to undercutting the NRA on safety and security, the proposed framework firmly establishes the Second Amendment as just one among other nine other items in the Bill of Rights, each of which is subject to various restrictions and interpretations.
In their announcement, the bipartisan group starts by putting gun safety and security at the top of their to-do list, with these words: “Our plan increases needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students…”
The same sentence, though, ends with a ringing endorsement of common-sense restrictions on the right to bear arms: “…and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons.”
The passage continues by emphasizing that all of these elements are needed. “Most importantly, our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans,” they state.
Schools are not the only problem
In addition to refocusing the outcry over gun violence in schools and other public places, the new framework also brings domestic violence and other non-public situations into the conversation.
The data is clear. While the mass carnage at schools and other public places is a headline-grabber, guns kill more children and youth by suicide and in situations outside of schools. According to the organization Sandy Hook Promise, 12 children die of gun violence every day and another 32 are injured. Women — including pregnant women — are also especially vulnerable to lethal domestic violence.
Additionally, the statistics show that most gun violence is not perpetrated by people with a history of mental illness.
“Hardening” schools will do little to improve public safety overall, as the new framework recognizes by focusing attention on the control of gun possession by convicted domestic violence abusers and those under restraining orders, including “those who have or have had a continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.”
Next steps for common sense gun safety
As one indication that the proposed framework is a step in the right direction, it has received the seal of approval from two leading gun safety organizations, Everytown for Gun Safety and its affiliate, Moms Demand Action.
Nevertheless, the legislative process is far from over. If the proposed framework is watered down or blocked in the Senate, it will be back to square one for common sense public safety protections, and the danger is growing as far right extremist groups increasingly turn to violence in communities across the U.S.
In particular, business leaders who profess to support LGBTQ rights should start calling their senators now. Some of the same far right extremist groups that participated in the failed insurrection of January 6, 2021 have begun to exploit Pride Month as an opportunity to recruit new members by disrupting and Pride events and terrorizing participants, including a children’s library story hour.
Last week, an outbreak of violence at a Pride event in Idaho was only prevented at the last minute when a quick-witted citizen reported that they saw a “small army” of men armed with piling into a U-Haul truck that afternoon. Thankfully law enforcement took their report seriously, acted promptly, and arrested the entire group of 31 men.
This time, the public safety system worked — and this time, the men were not bearing firearms. Sooner or later, though, the luck will run out, unless individuals bent on violence lose their free and easy access to firearms.
Image credit: Chip Vincent via Unsplash
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.