Over the course of 24 hours, nearly 30 people were killed in two separate mass shootings this past weekend. The massacres spawned calls for government action for some measures to try to curb the nation’s gun violence epidemic.
In 2019 alone, there have been over 33,000 incidents of violent acts committed with guns, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) – a staggering statistic that shocks Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike. But so far, they have not been able to agree on what would constitute meaningful gun safety protections.
Here’s a look at just some of the measures that have been floated in Congress and where they stand:
Bump Stock Ban:
In 2017, a gunman in Las Vegas was able to carry out the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history in part because he modified his semiautomatic firearms to spray fire like automatic machine guns with a device known as a bump stock. This was one of the few events that resulted in governmental action, though not by Congress.
In the wake of the shooting, which killed 58 people, the White House announced a rule that fully bans bump stock devices. The Justice Department in December 2018 amended the federal law prohibiting machine guns to include guns modified with bump stocks.
The measure has survived a legal challenge. In March, the Supreme Court declined to stop the Trump administration from enforcing its ban on bump stock devices after gun rights groups called the move unconstitutional.
Extreme Risk protection order / Red Flag law:
“Red flag” laws already enacted in several states allow courts to issue orders confiscating the guns of individuals who are deemed to be a risk to others or to themselves. The red flag proposals have garnered some of the most bipartisan support in Congress.
Sometimes called “Extreme Risk protection order” laws, “red flag” laws are designed to allow family members or law enforcement officials to go to a state court and ask a judge to issue an order that confiscates the guns of an individual who they believe poses a threat to their safety.
Those seeking the restraining order must present evidence to the court on why the individual poses a threat to others, as well as to himself or herself. If a judge agrees to write the order after holding a hearing, the guns of the individual would be removed on a temporary basis.
There are currently 14 states which have implemented red flag laws, and more than two dozen legislatures considering a similar measure.
Everytown for Gun Safety, the advocacy group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, points out that the law has been effective in reducing firearms suicide rates in Connecticut and in Indiana, which have both implemented the “Extreme Risk” law.
The group also points out that the Extreme Risk law has been invoked at least four times in response to threats against schools in Maryland and in multiple cases in Florida.
GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina favor the legislation and held a hearing on red flag laws in March. Graham again called on Congress to pass a red flag law after the El Paso shooting and vowed to reintroduce red flag legislation with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal. Rubio introduced an Extreme Risk protection order bill in January, but the Senate has not yet acted.
Assault Weapons Ban:
Across the board, many lawmakers have pointed to a renewal of the 1994 ban on military-style assault weapons as a step to addressing the nation’s gun crisis. Assault weapons are semi-automatic guns that look like assault rifles used by the U.S. military. One of the most popular is the AR-15, which has grown so popular that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has dubbed it “America’s rifle.” It may be attractive to mass shooters because it looks like the guns used by soldiers.
The AR-15 was, in fact, the model of rifle adapted by the U.S. military into its weapon of choice, the M-16. But the M-16 has automatic fire capability, which has been outlawed for civilians since 1934.
The AR-15 is a semi-automatic weapon that fires in the same manner as any other semi-automatic weapon, although its small-caliber bullets are shot at a higher velocity and wreak more damage than bullets shot from a handgun. However, the gun’s lethality can be increased by adding attachments like high-capacity magazines and bump stocks.
One industry group estimated that U.S. citizens now own over 8 million AR-15 rifles. Variants of the AR-15, which can be bought for around $1,000, were used in the San Bernardino, Newtown and Aurora shootings. As a result, some retailers have decided to stop selling the AR-15, but nonetheless, many Democrats in Congress would like to renew the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004.
For now, much of the regulation has been on the local front, with states across the country enacting their own bans on assault-style weapons. In June 2016, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to state laws banning assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in New York and Connecticut. Those laws were enacted in response to the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
A full ban on assault weapons was introduced in January but has not been voted on in either the House or the Senate. A prior ban, which was enacted in 1994 under the Clinton administration, expired in 2004.
Federal law currently mandates instant background checks for individuals buying guns from licensed dealers, and if the results of the instant check are unclear, that time period can be extended to three days. People with federal or state permits do not have to comply with a waiting period. Background checks ostensibly bring up past offenses, but it’s not always the case that disqualifying information is entered into the federal databases, CBS News’ Steven Portnoy points out.
To remedy this, Congress passed the FIX NICS bill last year, to press state and federal authorities – with both incentives and penalties – to accurately report criminal history to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Democrats would expand the background check system to private sales and lengthen the maximum time allowed for a background check to 10 business days. The House, which is controlled by Democrats, approved a bill with these measures in February, but the Senate has yet not taken it up.
The measure has become a rallying cry for Democrats, who say background checks could help prevent tragedies carried out by those suffering from apparent mental illness. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer cited the House legislation as grounds for calling the Senate back to Washington for an emergency session. He predicted the House bill would pass in the Senate and the president would sign it.
The president, however, has threatened to veto both of the bills the House passed in February – even though he also encouraged Congress to pass “strong background checks” Monday.
Even under the Democratic version of the bill, if law enforcement does not enter disqualifying information into the databases, a citizen who has no serious conviction or who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” would pass the background check, notes Portnoy.
The El Paso shooting suspect purchased his weapon legally, as did the Dayton shooter. “There’s nothing in this individual’s record or history that would have precluded him from purchasing this firearm,” the Dayton Police Chief said Sunday.
Video games to blame?
President Trump has specifically cited video games as a leading contributor to mass shooting events on Monday. But back in 2013, President Obama was also calling for Congress to devote funds to studying any links between guns and mass shootings.
In the wake of the Newtown shooting, Obama directed the Centers for Disease Control – through a $10 million federal grant – to study the causes of gun violence with a close look at the effects violent video games have on young minds. The CDC eventually found that spending up to 5 hours a day on video games was associated with increased mental problems for girls and boys.
The research also found that playing violent video games was directly linked to aggressive behaviors and decreased sense of empathy among young respondents. However, the link between video games and violent behavior remains a controversial subject. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for one, wrote in 2012 that studies showing a link between games and aggression were unpersuasive.
“These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively,” Scalia wrote in a decision clarifying that video games were protected under the 1st Amendment.