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Recent shootings in Atlanta, Georgia and Boulder, Colorado have revived the debate surrounding gun reform that got put on hold amid the pandemic.
On Monday, 10 people, including one police officer, were killed by a shooter in a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado. The state has a long history of mass shootings, which most notably includes the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, which was widely seen as a turning point in school shootings.
The incident came less than a week after another series of shootings at three spas in Atlanta, Georgia, which resulted in the death of eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent. Though Federal Bureau of Investigation director Chris Wray said that it “does not appear” that race was a factor in the mass shooting, it comes at a time of increased hate crimes against Asian Americans, with a 150% increase in such crimes reported in 2020.
“Everyone has the right to go to work, to go to school, to walk down the street and be safe,” Kamala Harris, the United States’ first South Asian Vice President, said at an event at Emory University in Atlanta. “A harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us.”
The shootings have revived the debate surrounding gun reform that got put on hold amid the pandemic.
Gun violence during the pandemic
Before the shooting in Atlanta, there had been no large-scale shootings in public places since March 2020. In fact, 2020 saw only two mass shootings, the lowest number of mass shootings in public places in more than a decade.
In 2018, the same year as the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, there were 10 mass shootings. The following year, in 2019, there were nine.
Before the recent series of shootings, experts expressed their hope that the pause in discussion of the events would mean that less would happen. They cited the “contagion effect,” which suggests that the more we discuss mass shootings, the more potential attackers decide to carry out attacks.
“At the moment, we’ve got this pause, this break that we’re in,” said criminologist James Densley, a professor who studies mass shootings in Minnesota at the Metropolitan State University, adding, “that has the potential to really stop this cycle.
However, other types of gun violence increased in 2020, including shootings that involved gang violence, fights and domestic incidents. 2020 saw more than 600 shootings where four or more people were shot by one person, compared to nearly two hundred fewer in 2019. Experts suggest that this was caused by increased financial stress, widespread unemployment and a rise in addiction that was coupled by the restriction of community resources caused by the pandemic.
Calls for gun reform legislation
President Joe Biden called for the passage of legislation that would close loopholes in background check systems and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He also suggested that he might take executive action to address the issue.
“I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone another hour, to take common sense steps that will save lives in the future,” Biden said. “This is not and should not be a partisan issue. It’s an American issue.”
Gun reform activists also called on Congress to pass reform legislation.
“Now is not the time to continue the debate and partisan hackery as elected officials wait for the next shooting to happen,” said gun control activist and Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg in a thread of tweets on Tuesday. “Instead they need to act proactively, together across the [aisle], right now and do something.”
Biden called specifically on the Senate to pass two bills that were recently passed in the House that alter existing background check laws. Such a vote would likely require 10 Republican votes for passage in the Senate due to the filibuster and it is yet unclear whether or not such a margin could be attained by Democrats.
Action on Capitol Hill
A hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, which was scheduled before Monday’s shooting, saw Democrats and Republicans alike lay out the arguments for and against the two bills passed in the House. Democrats on the committee praised the bills, while Republicans called the hearing “ridiculous theater” and compared gun violence to drunken driving.
Despite the clear roadblocks ahead, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promised to make gun reform a priority going forwards whether or not it received bipartisan support.But the legislation could also face resistance from moderate Senate Democrats. Senator Joe Manchin told reporters that he opposed the bills passed in the House, saying, “the most reasonable responsible gun piece of legislation [is] called Gun Sense which is basically saying that commercial transactions should be background checked.”
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