Washington leaders can’t seem to fix America’s gun violence crisis

In less than a month, there have already been at least 39 mass shootings in the United States.

As California reels from two back-to-back mass shootings in less than a week, elected officials in Washington are faced with a familiar and persistent dilemma: How does America fix its gun violence crisis?

In less than a month, there have already been at least 39 mass shootings in the United States. And in 2022, mass shootings reached a total of 647 — the second highest tally since the Gun Violence Archive first compiled the data in 2014. What’s more, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data reveals that Black and other communities of color are disproportionately impacted by gun violence in America.

A memorial for the supermarket shooting victims is set up outside the Tops Friendly Market on July 14, 2022 in Buffalo, New York where a white gunman killed10 Black people. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

“Communities of color are often most vulnerable to crimes,” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told theGrio. Khanna, who represents California’s 17th district — which he noted is the “only Asian majority district in the continental United States” — says California’s Asian community is left “feeling vulnerable” after the recent mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay. 

While the recent shootings in California were not hate crimes, they have only exacerbated existing fears and have had a “major psychological impact,” Khanna noted.

Mass shootings, whether the result of hatred of a racial or ethnic group or otherwise, have steadily increased in the U.S. Meanwhile, other countries have managed to curb the number of injuries and homicides that firearms have caused. Advocates and politicians say fewer guns in the hands of bad actors is the answer. 

“Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in America, and over 70 percent of people killed in a homicide are Black or brown in America,” Taifa Smith Butler, president of the advocacy group, Dēmos, said in a statement. 

Butler also called out the millions of dollars that the gun industry spent to thwart policies that would have restricted the passage of gun access legislation in Congress. “In 2021, gun groups spent a record $15.8 million on lobbying for guns and $2 million in the first quarter of 2022, according to data from OpenSecrets,” she noted. 

In response to the recent California shootings, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass the Assault Weapons Ban bill that Democratic senators introduced on Monday. The legislation would ban the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and raise the minimum age to purchase certain firearms to 21. When he was a U.S. senator in the 90s, Biden worked on a similar assault weapons ban that led to a reduction in gun violence for a decade.

“In the 10 years that the Assault Weapons Ban was on the books, mass shootings went down. After Republicans let the law expire in 2004 and those weapons were allowed to be sold again, mass shootings tripled,” said Biden in a White House statement. “I urge both chambers of Congress to act quickly and deliver this Assault Weapons Ban to my desk.”

Illegally possessed firearms that authorities seized are displayed during a news conference on Oct. 9, 2018 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

The statement continued, “The majority of the American people agree with this common sense action. There can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety of our children, our communities, and our nation.”

Though Republicans worked with Democrats in last year’s 117th Congress to pass the first gun reform law in nearly 30 years (The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act), they have been unwilling to enact stricter gun laws that advocates and Democratic lawmakers say would critically reduce the number of fatal mass shootings. 

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-CA, speaks during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence Jun 8, 2022 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images)

“They see this as a Second Amendment issue … but I don’t think the Second Amendment protects the right to have military-style weapons on our civilian streets,” said Khanna. 

The congressman believes the resistance from his Republican colleagues is mostly political. “For the Republican base and the primaries that they have to go through, this is an issue which they can’t compromise on, or they risk losing their seat,” he explained. 

The prevailing message from Democrats and activists is clear: in a country where there are more guns than people, America must curb the proliferation of guns. But without cooperation from Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate, stricter gun laws are elusive in Congress. 

Khanna told theGrio that he is “not optimistic” that GOP lawmakers will come around on the issue. “I’m just, unfortunately, a bit numb by the Republicans’ opposition to any type of gun law [reform], put aside even the assault weapons ban. Not even universal background checks. Not even strong red flag laws, where someone who has a history of workplace rage should not be getting guns,” he said. 

In the absence of GOP support, Biden, in addition to signing the Safer Communities Act — which expands background check requirements and funds programs promoting crisis intervention and access to behavioral and mental health services — also signed executive orders that banned ghost guns and tightened regulations on pistol-stabilizing braces for firearms.

President Joe Biden holds up a ghost gun kit during a gun violence event on April 11, 2022 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. Biden announced a new firearm regulation aimed at reining in ghost guns, which are untraceable, unregulated weapons. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

During Thursday’s White House briefing, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said enacting stricter gun laws is a “priority” for the president and reiterated his call for Congress to pass the Assault Weapons Ban. “We cannot continue to see communities be devastated by this,” said Jean-Pierre. 

Khanna applauded Biden for “doing all he can” to address America’s gun crisis, but expressed doubt that there’s much he can do beyond what has already been done: “I’m not sure what any Democratic president would be able to do besides making the case until you have some courageous Republicans break from the party’s orthodoxy on this issue.”

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