Democrats proved again this past week that they have the votes to pass gun safety laws in the United States House of Representatives, voting mostly along party lines to adopt the Protecting Our Children Act and the Federal Extreme Risk Protection Act — bills that President Joe Biden is eager to sign.
In the Senate, however, Republicans wield a veto over all policy bills thanks to the collection of procedures known as the filibuster, which enables them to block pretty much all legislation they don’t like from even being considered.
Reforming the filibuster would require the entire Democratic caucus to be united in support of a rules change, but two members — Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — are adamantly opposed to such a move, leaving Senate Democratic leaders like Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and Patty Murray with little recourse other than to call on Republicans to work with Democrats to protect Americans.
That’s exactly what Senator Murray did yesterday at an appearance with advocates and local elected leaders hosted by the Alliance for Gun Responsibility.
Murray’s event, which preceded NPI’s press conference in Kent with Attorney General Bob Ferguson, was opened by Renee Hopkins, the CEO of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility. She cited some of the recent mass shootings that have drawn national media attention, including the tragedies in Uvalde, Buffalo, Laguna Woods, and Tulsa. She also pointed out that many of the children killed in Uvalde were born in the same year as the atrocity at Sandy Hook in Newtown.
Although mass shootings draw the most media interest, Hopkins noted that “the vast majority of gun violence happens in our homes and our neighborhoods every single day without making headlines.” An average of one hundred and twenty people are killed with guns in this country every day. Recent legislation adopted in Washington State will help prevent gun violence here, but much more needs to be done, Hopkins explained, especially at the federal level, where bills to do things that Washington State has already done are being held up by Republicans.
Joaquín Rodríguez, Director of the Seattle Education Association’s Center for Racial Equity, discussed the harm that gun violence has inflicted on his students, emphasizing the anxiety caused by lockdowns and credible threats of violence.
Students need and deserve to learn in a healthy, safe, and positive environment in order to thrive, he told reporters.
He denounced elected officials who take money from the gun lobby, observing that these are often the same people who deny providing predominantly schools in Black and brown communities the resources they need. Finally, he challenged lawmakers to recognize that students want to be free from intrusive and aggressive policing along with ending gun violence.
Next to speak was Theresa Harding, who joined Rodríguez in emphasizing the importance of recognizing student activism in the struggle to end gun violence. Elected officials and older voters need to be as dedicated to this cause as students are, Harding said. She cited New Zealand, which took action directly after a horrific mass shooting to ban semi-automatic weapons, as an example of a jurisdiction where leaders listen, calling on Congress to take similar steps.
Lincoln High sophomore Chetan Soni explained what it is like to be consistently reminded of the threat of gun violence through lockdown drills and active lockdowns. Soni argued that teachers should not be expected to inform their students that they are willing to die for them in the event of a shooting, which is something that many of his teachers have shared.
Chetan urged Republican members of Congress to cut all ties with the gun lobby and pursue legislation promoting gun safety.
“Every single hour and every single day: That is how often students and staff think about gun violence when they enter their classrooms,” Soni said.
Representative Liz Berry, who succeeded NPI’s Gael Tarleton in the Legislature as one of two representatives from the 36th District, shared her experience with gun violence at a constituent event for former Representative Gabby Giffords, her boss at the time. After firing thirty-one times, shooting eighteen people, and killing five, the gunman was taken down while attempting to reload.
The gunman’s use of a semi-automatic firearm and high capacity magazine designed for ruthless, efficient killing resulted in a high death toll.
Recently passed gun safety laws, including a ban on “ghost guns” and investment in community intervention programs, have moved Washington forward, Berry said. Gun safety laws have been shown to lower rates of gun violence, but only Democratic-led states have been passing them. Republican-controlled states have indefensibly made it easier for people to own and possess military-style guns.
Action is needed at the federal level to ensure all Americans are better protected from gun violence, Representative Berry said, adding that gun manufacturers should no longer enjoy immunity from liability.
Senator Murray, who was the final speaker, reminded those present that gun violence remains a big threat to public safety here, referencing the record number of firearm deaths in 2021 in King County as well as credible shooting threats made against Washington schools in recent weeks.
Washington State has shown what can be accomplished even in the face of strident opposition from the gun lobby, but Congress has not, because Senate Republicans have sadly blocked any and all progress to date.
Senator Murray reiterated that her caucus is prepared to support any proposals that Republicans are willing to provide sufficient votes for, so long as they actually respond to the problem of gun violence. Even taking small steps would be better than the almost total lack of action we’ve seen in the wake of previous tragedies.
As Senator Murray said, all Americans, no matter what state they live in, deserve to be safe and free from gun violence. That’s a future that we at NPI strongly believe in. We’ll keep working with the Alliance and leaders like Senator Murray to secure the passage of laws to make us a freer and safer people.