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The weekend’s bloody spate of mass shootings, and another shooting the weekend before, have again raised the question of what can be done to prevent such violence in America.
State legislatures have increased their attention in the past year on the debate over gun-related deaths, but today we’d like to turn our attention to national leaders. Congress is away from Washington on summer recess, but lawmakers left behind scores of bills related to gun control and gun rights — which can give a sense of their baseline approach to the issue before the El Paso and Dayton shootings.
Here’s a look:
110 gun bills. Some 110 bills containing the word “gun” have been introduced since this Congress convened in January, according to the Capitol’s official record-keeping website, Congress.gov. (Most of the 110 are directly related to the gun debate, though a few recognize historical events or deal with foreign countries.) This is out of 7,639 total bills introduced.
One became law. Just one of these bills passed both chambers, and it was not focused on the gun debate. It was the spending bill which ended the partial government shutdown in January. It included $20 million in funding to “reduce crime and gang violence.”
Who is behind the legislation? Democrats have written most of the gun-related legislation proposed this Congress, with 82 bills, compared to 28 by Republicans.
Two bills have the most support. Two bills stand out for gaining the most support (in the form of cosponsors). See next two bullet points.
Background checks. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act would require a background check on most every gun sale or transfer, allowing exceptions for some transfers within a family. It would mean background checks at gun shows, where most states do not currently require background checks when purchasing from a private individual at a gun show. This bill passed the House with 240 votes; most were Democrats and eight were Republicans. It has not moved forward in the Senate.
Concealed Carry. The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act would allow any individual with a permit to carry a concealed handgun in one state to also do so in any other state which allows concealed carry, as well as in school zones and on federal public land. This Republican-led House bill has 155 cosponsors, including two Democrats. It has not received a vote in either chamber.
Assault weapons. The Assault Weapons Ban of 2019 would outlaw the sale or possession of semi-automatic assault-style weapons. It would allow some individuals to own — but never sell or transfer — grandfathered weapons already in their possession. It also would ban high-capacity magazines. The primary bill is sponsored by Sen.Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in the Senate, and Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., in the House. (Rep. Eric Swalwell, R-Calif. has another version). A different approach from Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., is the Raise the Age Act, which would ban semi-automatic sales to anyone under 21 years old.
High-capacity magazines. In addition to the bills above, the Keep America Safe Act would also ban most magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. It is sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who represents the town of Parkland, where 17 people were killed in a high school shooting last year. His bill has some 90 House cosponsors, all Democrats.
Guns and schools. Another relatively popular bill is a non-binding resolution by Rep. Jahanna Hayes, D-Conn., whose district includes Newtown, where 20 small children and six adults were killed in a mass shooting in 2012. Her “Keeping Guns out of Classrooms” resolution expresses a sense that no federal funds should be used to train teachers to use guns. All 86 cosponsors of the bill are Democrats. It has not received a vote. A Republican, Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin, has proposed the “Student and Teacher Safety Act” to allow federal funds to go toward activities that “prevent gun violence” at schools, including physical barriers. This has a handful of cosponsors. It also has not received a vote. Another Republican, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, has written the Safe Students Act to remove any federal bans on possessing a handgun at a school and encourage more teachers and staff to carry firearms. It has nine cosponsors.
Research on gun violence. A few bills would authorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun deaths and gun safety as public health issue. These include the Gun Violence Prevention Research Act and National Gun Violence Research Act, which also would create a National Gun Violence Research program. These all have dozens of House and Senate sponsors, including one Republican, Rep. Peter King of N.Y. An additional bill, from Rep. Robin Kelly, R-Ill., would require an annual report from the surgeon general on gun violence.
Red flag laws. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has introduced the “Extreme Risk Protection Orders and Violence Prevention Act” to encourage states to adopt “red flag laws”. Those allow police agencies, family members and others to petition for a gun to be taken from someone they believe has become dangerous. The idea has been much discussed, including by President Donald Trump this week, but Rubio’s bill has just three cosponsors. Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., has a “Protecting our Communities and Rights Act” that similarly encourages and allows states to enact more red flag laws. His bill has nine cosponsors.
Blocking more people from owning guns. An alternate approach is found in bills by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass, which would expand the federal ban who can own a gun. Klobuchar and Dingell’s proposals would block stalkers and make it easier to stop domestic abusers from owning or keeping guns. Kelly’s bill would add bans on people convicted of a violent crime or of stalking in the past 10 years, and those convicted at least twice of drug or alcohol possession or distribution. Rush would include anyone who illegally sells a gun. Clark would add those convicted of animal cruelty.
Other ideas. One bill would use federal funds for a mass gun buyback program. Another would make it easier to sue companies that make firearms or ammunition. Some bills tackle the issue of “ghost guns”, which are weapons with no serial number, often homemade. Others focus on the rise of 3D printed guns.
Few bills have made it to committee. So far, just five of these bills have received committee consideration in either chamber, usually the first step toward significant debate and votes.
Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
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