Addressing gun reform in a silo, 20 US Senators have banded together to quell national rage
Meanwhile American parents are skipping meals so their kids don't go hungry
We have to do something. And gun owners are standing up. You take polls around the country, in my state, too — law-abiding gun owners want something to be done. They don’t want people who should never have a gun, or is mentally incapacitated or not stable to be able to access anything they want.
Joe Manchin, speaking on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” on June 13, 2022
Nearly 3 weeks after Uvalde, the United States still rages at its leaders for standing by and watching, watching their kids and loved ones be shot to death anywhere and everywhere. This past weekend, March for Our Lives, a student-led movement focused on gun violence prevention, protested again in multiple American cities. According to CNN, rallies were scheduled in more than 400 US cities in almost every US state. In a nation with more guns than people and more annual mass shootings than there are days in a calendar year, Americans regardless of political ideology or lack thereof know intuitively this will never just stop on its own.
On Sunday, a bipartisan group of 20 Senators announced a framework for commonsense legislation. This publication critiqued the likes of Senator Manchin and others in the immediate Uvalde aftermath for using the ‘commonsense’ buzzword instead of proffering any solution to a problem stretching back many, many years.
According to the Financial Times, “Democratic senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis spearheaded the efforts.” Senator John Cornyn, who thought the Uvalde massacre ‘unimaginable,’ was directed by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to work with Democrats including Senator Sinema (a now infamous legislative lynchpin alongside Senator Manchin) to find common ground.
Upon hearing which 20 Senators worked on this framework, I was initially taken aback. Specifically, 10 Republicans and Democrats Sinema and Manchin took a hands-on approach to craft bipartisan legislation together in stark contrast to how all 12 irresponsibly behaved in continuously thwarting any version of Build Back Better passing into law. Late last year, Data for Progress “partnered with Invest in America to track Build Back Better’s popularity over the course of November — and found that support never wavered below 55 percent. Voters across the political spectrum have supported Build Back Better over its various iterations.” Their survey results reported support in the aggregate and by individual provisions to prove wide-ranging support for what “would have been the largest investment in families, jobs, and the social safety net since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.” Of course, Build Back Better and its component pieces of legislation currently reside in the Congressional dustbin (for now).
Regarding the 12 aforementioned Senators who worked on the gun reform legislation compromise framework - 4 Republicans are retiring this year, 5 Republicans are up for reelection in 2026 and Republican Senator Mitt Romney is not so secretly planning a White House run in 2024 as Biden’s numbers remain dismal and Trump’s name is being dragged through the mud by even his own daughter Ivanka. What is eye-catching is Democratic Senators Sinema and Manchin agreeing to a framework, which would make their later Nay votes for finalized legislation politically untenable considering both are up for reelection in 2024.
The proposed framework falls short of President Biden’s requests, which makes me curious who in that group of 20 was representing the White House given Senator Cornyn was at least informally representing Republican leadership. That aside, the compromise very much addresses what these 12 Senators believe were the root causes of Uvalde (details of each provision can be found on CNN):
‘Red flag’ laws
Mental health and telehealth investment
Closing the so-called boyfriend loophole
Enhanced review process for buyers under 21
Clarifying the definition of a Federally Licensed Firearm Dealer
School security resources
Each provision undoubtedly can and should increase safety from indiscriminate gun violence in America. And as multiple media outlets have stated, this framework as a whole is a tepid response to a deep and massive issue with the biggest short-term win being Republicans and Democrats can agree on something. There are known shortcomings which will undoubtedly keep America firmly in the lead on the world stage for annual mass shootings, an ignoble distinction to be sure.
Why not address the causes of other mass shootings, not just Uvalde?
The House of Representatives passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, which was killed in the Senate. Assault weapons were banned as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Despite legal challenges, the ban was upheld by the courts. Only because of the 10 year sunset provision was the ban lifted and Congress has yet to renew. And given the incredible economic hardships being faced today, why not capitalize on this political moment to introduce a voluntary gun buyback program to reduce the number of guns (or at the very least non-handguns)? According to Pew Research Center, 30% of Americans own a gun with nearly one-third of gun owners saying they own 5+ guns.
How and will America grapple with its long-standing cultural issue?
Chris Hedges, who worked at the New York Times for 15 years and received the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for global terrorism reporting, wrote in the aftermath of Uvalde:
Like many boys in rural America, I was fascinated by guns, although I disliked hunting.
Guns made my family, lower working-class people in Maine, feel powerful, even when they were not. Take away their guns and what was left? Decaying small towns, shuttered textile and paper mills, dead-end jobs, seedy bars where veterans, nearly all the men in my family were veterans, drank away their trauma. Take away the guns, and the brute force of squalor, decline and abandonment hit you in the face like a tidal wave.
The fear of losing the gun is the final crushing blow to self-esteem and dignity, a surrender to the economic and political forces that have destroyed their lives. They cling to the gun as an idea, a belief that with it they are strong, unassailable and independent.
Hedges goes on in that article to write of America’s incredibly violent history. The original colonies, America’s heartland and the West were ‘won’ by mass genocide of Native Americans (often with guns). Africans were captured en masse, enslaved for centuries, followed by lynchings and now mass imprisonment at the barrel of a gun. And of course, it is impossible to honestly discuss America’s foreign policies without acknowledging the magnitude and ubiquity of America’s military might. Though European nations also killed natives in their imperialistic ambitions and have a horrid history of slavery as well, Hedges makes a compelling argument of how “America’s gun fetish and culture of vigilante violence makes the U.S. very different from other industrialized nations.”
To address this cultural phenomena may unfortunately be out of the reach of any prominent US politician with a realistic chance of becoming President and speaking at the most prominent bully pulpit in the world. Some may point out that Obama attempted to when he made a rather pretentious remark during his 2008 presidential campaign saying of working-class voters in decaying industrial towns, “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” Yet his legacy, as he so often refers to his Presidential tenure, will not include ending the second Jim Crow, revitalizing American industry by renegotiating trade deals or setting forth a bold new vision for America like JFK did in his 1963 commencement address at American University:
What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children--not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women--not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.
Some say that it is useless to speak of world peace or world law or world disarmament--and that it will be useless until the leaders of the Soviet Union adopt a more enlightened attitude. I hope they do. I believe we can help them do it. But I also believe that we must reexamine our own attitude--as individuals and as a Nation--for our attitude is as essential as theirs. And every graduate of this school, every thoughtful citizen who despairs of war and wishes to bring peace, should begin by looking inward--by examining his own attitude toward the possibilities of peace, toward the Soviet Union, toward the course of the cold war and toward freedom and peace here at home.
Can any politician correct the false narrative of the 2nd Amendment?
Before his death in 2018, I often found wisdom and solace in Robert Parry’s investigative reporting. Parry, for those who don’t know, worked for years at the Associated Press and Newsweek and won the George Polk Award for National Reporting in 1984 for breaking Iran-Contra. After Newsweek, Parry launched his own online publication, Consortium News, in 1994 (and inspired the founding of this publication). As an independent journalist, he wrote several times about gun violence and its history in America. After the mass shooting at a community college in Oregon in 2015, Robert Parry wrote of The Second Amendment’s Fake History:
The actual goal of the Second Amendment was to promote state militias for the maintenance of order in a time of political uprisings, potential slave revolts and simmering hostilities with both European powers and Native Americans on the frontiers. Indeed, its defined purpose was to achieve “security” against disruptions to the country’s republican form of government. The Second Amendment read:
“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” In other words, if read in context, it’s clear that the Second Amendment was enacted so each state would have the specific right to form “a well-regulated militia” to maintain “security,” i.e., to put down armed disorder and protect its citizens.
Indeed, one of the crises that led to the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787 was the inability of the old system under the Articles of Confederation to put down Shays’s Rebellion in western Massachusetts in 1786-87. So, the Federalists were seeking a system that would ensure “domestic Tranquility,” as they explained in the Constitution’s Preamble. They did not want endless civil strife.
However, in recent decades understanding the power of narrative on the human imagination a resurgent American Right (and some on the Left) rewrote the history of the Founding era, dispatching “researchers” to cherry-pick or fabricate quotes from Revolutionary War leaders to create politically convenient illusions. [See, for instance, Steven Krulik’s compilation of apocryphal or out-of-context gun quotes.]
By 2008, these right-wing jurists held a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court and could thus overturn generations of legal precedents and declare that the Second Amendment established an individual right for Americans to own guns. Though even these five right-wing justices accepted society’s right to protect the general welfare of the population through some gun control, the Supreme Court’s ruling effectively “validated” the Right’s made-up history.
I realize full well this type of political and historical framing by an American politician may never occur in my lifetime. And yet the Senate compromise framework is not a win. Assault weapons were banned in 1994; and this is the best America can do almost 30 years later and after literally thousands of mass shootings in the intervening years? And to think this framework was the result of intense, sustained national pressure..
Speaking of the Senate compromise framework, McConnell said “The principles they announced today show the value of dialogue and cooperation.” The most optimistic interpretation of McConnell’s response is that the leaders of entrenched Washington are finally seeing the power and beauty of democracy. Yet, that interpretation can easily be disproven. In the same interview referenced in the beginning of this post, Senator Manchin also said on “The Lead with Jake Tapper”:
..this piece of legislation, as drafted, should not be threatening to any law-abiding citizen in the United States of America, not one. And no law-abiding gun owner should be offended by this.
‘Offend’? Schoolchildren, churchgoers, grocery shoppers, concert attendees and so many others are being shot to death by individuals they never met. And offending gun owners is a top concern? If parents can feel safer sending their kids to school in an authoritarian nation (e.g. Saudi Arabia or China), then America has far graver concerns than offending law-abiding gun owners.
The reality with which all Americans of all political ideologies realize is US legislators always possessed the ability to find the hallowed ‘common ground.’ Twenty-three times since the Bill of Rights, two-thirds of the Senate, two-thirds of the House of Representatives and three-fourths of all State legislatures agreed on 23 permanent federal Amendments. In times of far bitter racism, sexism, xenophobia and unconscious cruelty towards the impoverished, legislators collaborated. Yet since the 1994 Contract with America, all Americans are forced to live in a faux political deadlock in which cultural issues can keep politicians in power and millions of Americans spread across all 50 states live in a state of perpetual disbelief democracy can ever be effectual.
I hope I’m wrong. It would be a dream realized if Congress genuinely learns from Uvalde about the value of continuously passing commonsense legislation that improves all American citizens’ lives. If fostering clean energy, reducing student debt and curbing the cost of prescription drugs are too divisive, what about addressing low hanging fruits?
Earlier this month, CNBC reported almost half of American families cannot afford enough food without the child tax credit, which recently ended and would have continued had Congress passed Build Back Better. The CNBC article references a May survey of 500 parents from Parents Together Action, which details how parents who relied on government assistance are struggling now. A few tragic highlights:
65% said they’ve had to change the foods they buy (e.g. fewer fruits and vegetables)
45% said they’ve had to use food banks
45% said they’ve skipped meals so their kids can eat
In the same survey, more than 3 out of 4 parents said the monthly Child Checks made a huge difference for their family. In the wealthiest nation on Earth, nearly half of parents who received those checks are skipping meals so their children don’t go hungry. And if more than 75% clearly relied on said checks, then it would stand to reason this issue has bipartisan support. So why not introduce it as a stand alone bill? America has an unlimited bank account for war; money is a bullshit excuse on this issue.
I really do hope Congress learned a deeper lesson from Uvalde. Because what lawmaker in good conscious wouldn’t do everything in their power to ensure children in America don’t go hungry? And have a place to learn without deadly fear.
..to learn more about recent survey results: