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Latest push in US over gun violence

By LIA ZHU | China Daily | Updated: 2019-01-28 08:18

A student attends a rally against gun violence outside the White House in Washington on April 20. CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

New legislation calls for universal background checks

Nearly a year after a deadly Florida high school shooting, two survivors-turned-activists see a "glimmer of hope" in a new bill to address gun violence in the United States.

David Hogg and Jaclyn Corin were students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 14 students and three staff members were shot and killed on Feb 14, 2018.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, confessed to the attack at the school from which he had been expelled for fighting. He has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Cruz had legally bought the .223-caliber rifle used in the shootings, authorities said. A motive in the shootings remains unclear.

The Parkland victims are just a small fraction of the nearly 40,000 people who died in gun violence in the United States last year, a record high in four decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have been several high-profile shooting recently. In Louisiana, police are looking for Dakota Theriot, 21, after two shootings that left the suspect's parents and three others dead in Ascension and Livingston parishes, near Baton Rouge.

On Wednesday, at least five people were killed when a gunman opened fire in a bank in Sebring, Florida. The 21-year-old shooter is in police custody and the motive is under investigation.

In 2018, there were 890 gun-related deaths, according to Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit corporation.

Hogg and Corin blamed Republicans who "have put profits ahead of people" for the long-stalled issue in an article they wrote for The Daily Beast that was published by the website on Jan 8.

On that same day, congressional Democrats introduced legislation for a universal background check, which is considered the most significant gun-control measure since Republicans took control of the House in 2011 and then lost it to Democrats in last year's midterm elections.

The bill would require background checks for all gun sales and most gun transfers. Federally licensed gun sellers are required to run background checks on people who buy guns, but private sellers who aren't federally licensed are not.

"The background check requirement for firearms sales in current federal law is riddled with loopholes that make it far too easy for dangerous people to get guns. It is time we expand these checks to include all gun sales," said Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The New York Democrat's committee has jurisdiction over the issue.

A 2017 national survey conducted by researchers at Northeastern and Harvard universities shows one-fifth of the approximately 265 million privately owned guns in the US were obtained without background checks.

"There is no single law that can put an end to mass shootings or gun violence, but there are certainly proactive steps we can take to keep guns out of the hands of felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill," said US Congressman Pete King, a Republican from New York who is co-sponsor of the bill.

According to the gun-control group Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, more than 90 percent of the public supports universal background checks.

While supporting gun control, Avery Kim, a resident in the San Francisco Bay Area, said that he finds it necessary to store a gun in his closet.

"If I don't have a gun, I feel defenseless, because a lot of other people have guns," Kim said. "The key is you need to have a national standard (of background checks) for everyone."


Gun-rights groups argue that the universal background check wouldn't be universal because criminals don't comply with the law.

"Instead of looking for effective solutions that will deal with the root cause of violent crime and save lives, anti-gun politicians would rather score political points and push ineffective legislation that doesn't stop criminals from committing crimes," said Jennifer Baker, director of public affairs for the National Rifle Association.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on Dec 15, 1791, as part of the Bill of Rights. It stipulates citizens' rights to keep and bear arms in pursuit of public defense.

"Any thought that guns can play a helpful role in reducing tyranny in a democratic country like the United States should quickly be dispelled," said John Donohue, a law professor at Stanford University in a 2017 article posted on the university's website.

Universal background checks are common features of gun regulation in other developed countries, including Germany, Finland, Italy and France. The US has a far larger homicide rate than those countries, he said.

A recent study by the Stanford University School of Medicine found a child is 82 times more likely to die in the US of a firearms injury than in any other developed country.

The researchers examined the firearm laws of all 50 states and found the least strict state is Arizona and the strictest state is its neighbor California. The youth firearm-mortality rate in Arizona is nearly twice that of California.

"If you put more regulations on firearms, it does make a difference," said Stephanie Chao, the senior author of the study.

The background-check measure is part of the broader efforts of the newly elected Democratic majority in the House, which pledged to make gun control a top priority. Many members were elected by making gun control a centerpiece issue.

Major roadblocks they face are opposition from the NRA, the most powerful gun-rights lobby in the US, and the Republican-led Senate.

Despite public outcry for gun safety laws following a shooting in 2012 at a Connecticut elementary school in which 20 children were killed, the Senate blocked or defeated several gun-control measures in early 2013 under intense pressure from the gun-rights lobby.

Among the defeated measures, a background-check proposal fell apart on the Senate floor just six votes short of the 60-vote threshold required for approval.

While partisan gridlock has prevented progress on gun control at the federal level, 67 bills designed to keep guns out of dangerous hands have been signed into law in 26 states and Washington last year.

Republican governors in 14 states have signed gun-safety bills that strengthen their current laws, according to the Giffords Law Center.

Florida, a state with a history of lenient gun laws, passed a gun safety reform package after the Parkland shooting, including raising the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21 and installing a mandatory three-day waiting period on all firearms purchases.

But that's far from enough to Hogg and Corin, who organized a pro-gun control march and mobilized young people to vote last year.

"It's been a year since the shooting at our school and nothing has happened," they wrote in The Daily Beast article.

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