Gun violence prevention groups call on Congress to act after Maine mass shooting

“It’s unfortunate that the current political climate in Congress is unlikely to move anything significant forward that would address gun safety in this country” said Yasmín Fletcher Braithwaite, deputy director for federal policy at Giffords Law Center

Gun violence prevention groups are calling for Congress to act following the latest mass shooting that left 18 people dead and several others injured in Lewiston, Maine earlier this week.

Our laws as written, there is no community and nobody in any community that can feel safe from gun violence,” Christian Heyne, chief policy and programs officer at Brady United Against Gun Violence, told theGrio. “We do very little to prevent incidents like ours from happening…I think until we ask more of our elected leaders we can expect that they’ll continue to happen and nobody’s safe.”

Lewiston, Maine,
Law Enforcement officials continue their investigation at the Schemengees Bar where one of two mass shootings took place on October 27, 2023 in Lewiston, Maine. Police are still searching for the suspect, Robert Card, who allegedly killed 18 people in two separate locations on Wednesday night. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Yasmín Fletcher Braithwaite, deputy director for federal policy at Giffords Law Center to prevent gun violence, noted that Congress made “some progress” when President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The law is the first “significant piece” of gun safety legislation in three decades, she said.

“They’re currently working to implement that law,” Braithwaite said. “But there’s more that Congress can be doing.”

When he signed the bill into law in June 2022, Biden said it intended “to stop the carnage of gun violence that leaves behind grief and trauma in communities.”

The bill seeks to curb gun violence by clarifying who needs to obtain a federal license to buy or sell firearms, imposes an enhanced background check process and places limitations on the “boyfriend loophole” by making it illegal for someone convicted of domestic violence as part of a dating relationship from obtaining a firearm for at least five years.  

The compromise, however, did not include tougher restrictions like a ban on assault-style weapons and more expansive background checks supported by Biden and other Democrats. Democrats and Republicans struck a deal in the wake massacres at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York and a school in Uvalde, Texas.

Congress last enacted an assault weapons ban, which has now expired, in 1993.

“It’s unfortunate that the current political climate in Congress is unlikely to move anything significant forward that would address gun safety in this country” Braithwaite said.

On Wednesday, a suspect identified as 40-year-old U.S. Army reservist Robert Card opened fire at two locations — Schemengees Bar and Grille and a bowling alley called Just-In-Time Recreation — killing a total of 18 people and wounding 13 others.

“Another one,” Braithwaite recalled saying to herself when she heard the news.

“We see it all too often, and yet I don’t think anyone is surprised at this point that we continue to experience these massacres in our country,” she said. “But, it is absolutely devastating to know this continues to happen and that there are families that are traumatized from this and other families that are re-traumatized.”

Heyne told theGrio, “I feel the same as so many Americans. It’s complete shock and frustration and also just incredible anger that we continue to allow these uniquely American incidents to happen day in and day out without any real effort to prevent them in the first place.

House Speaker Mike Johnson,
U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) arrives at a House Republican candidates forum where congressmen who are running for Speaker of the House will present their platforms in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill on October 23, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In response to the deadly rampage, newly-elected House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., said the “problem is the human heart, not guns” and that now is not the time to discuss gun violence in an interview on Fox News.

Braithwaite has little hope Congress will pass gun legislation under Johnson’s leadership as Republicans, who have the majority in the House chamber, have not shown support for “significant gun safety laws.”

“Unfortunately, it is a partisan issue for many, and it shouldn’t be,” she continued. “But, at a certain point you have to decide that saving lives is important and you have to take the steps to save lives by passing policies that are not aimed at taking guns away from lawful gun owners, but making sure access to guns is not available for everyone especially those who should not have access to firearms.”

Heyne told theGrio that “special interest groups…have created a log cabin where a minority of legislators have” been unsuccessful in passing gun reform legislation.

“It’s incredibly frustrating and I think that there’s an entire generation of young people who have been defined by gun violence,” he said.

“Every generation that has preceded this one has failed them. We failed to protect them. We failed to ensure that they can feel safe in this country…we have to demand that our legislators do more,” he added.

Braithwaite said there is not one solution to curbing gun violence.

“I think there are multiple policies that are needed and you have to address gun violence from multiple angles,” she said. “Background checks are very important. That is a prime way of ensuring that individuals who should not have access to firearms are unable to purchase firearms.”

Authorities have not yet identified the firearm used in the Maine case, however, Braithwaite told theGrio, in past mass shootings assault weapons have been used and Congress needs to implement a total ban on such firearms.

the U.S. Capitol,
The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Sunday, May 21, 2023. President Joe Biden planned on Sunday to speak directly with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, hoping to salvage talks to raise the debt limit that have stalled in recent days while he was abroad at the Group of Seven summit. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“These weapons were made for the battlefield, so citizens should not just have access to these weapons that are designed to maximize the number of people shot in a short amount of time,” she said.

Heyne said the system is rigged to “a certain degree” and to be successful in passing gun legislation, Americans need to vote for elected officials who will make that happen.  

We have got to make sure that there’s not disenfranchised voters that in places like the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that there is adequate voting rights and that districts are fair and balanced and not gerrymandered in ways that undermine and devalue the voices of marginalized communities.”

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