It’s not enough.
Yes, the agreement reached between Democrats and key Republicans on a new menu of gun control measures is significant, if only because it is the only real movement on the issue at the federal level since 1994, when Congress passed the assault weapons ban. That law was allowed to expire in 2004, and the rest is bloody history.
Still, the bipartisan deal now on the table will likely do little to stem the tide of assaults and gun deaths that sets America apart from the rest of the world.
There have been 267 mass shootings in the United States so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, meaning the country is on pace to approach last year’s total of 693. How much the package of reforms agreed to in principle over the weekend will slow the horrifying rate of killings is open to debate.
The proposal is decidedly modest. One measure would make the juvenile records of gun buyers under age 21 available when they undergo background checks, an addition that is almost certainly a response to the most recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. The suspects in those attacks were both 18 years old.
The agreement would also offer money to states to implement “red flag” laws that make it easier to temporarily take guns from people considered potentially violent. It would require more people who sell guns to obtain federal dealers’ licenses, meaning they would have to run background checks on gun buyers. And it would also boost spending for school safety and mental health programs.
The deal was announced on the sixth anniversary of the assault at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where a gunman with a semi-automatic rifle killed 49 people and wounded 53 others.
“It’s good to see them moving toward something,” Ricardo Negron, a survivor of that attack, told The New York Times. “But on the other hand, it’s just the bare minimum of the bare minimum.”
Negron, like the majority of Americans, wants to see universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons. Neither were seriously considered as part of the package drafted in the wake of the Uvalde massacre.
John Rosenthal, co-founder of the group Stop Handgun Violence, was more blunt.
“This compromise is like moving deck chairs on the Titanic while there’s a gaping hole in the hull,” Rosenthal told The Boston Globe. “It’s a Band-Aid on a broken bone.”
It’s clear the reform package falls short of what is truly needed, and there’s a real danger that lawmakers will point to this gentleman’s C of as an excuse not to take up more substantial — and politically dangerous — measures in the weeks and months to come.
There is some cause for optimism. Significantly, the proposal includes a provision that closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”
As the law currently stands, domestic abusers who have been married to their victims, lived with them, or had children with them are barred from owning guns. But that doesn’t include dating or intimate partners.
“We work with many, many victims and survivors who have been abused, are being stalked, being harassed continually by their former intimate partners,” said Mary-Jane Foster, president and CEO of Interval House, which runs crisis shelters and centers for victims of domestic violence.
“When victims’ abusers have access to firearms, they are five times more likely to die,” she added. “So removing that access to firearms is incredibly important.”
The larger reason for hope comes not from the contents of this deal, but that it was struck at all. It required the participation and ultimate buy-in from 10 Republican senators, the number thought to be needed to overcome a GOP filibuster.
Holding that coalition together over the summer — and actually passing legislation — could build a framework for more significant bipartisan work down the line.
We should remember, however, what is driving this change.
“Each day that passes, more children are killed in this country,” President Joe Biden said when the deal was struck. “The sooner it comes to my desk, the sooner I can sign it, and the sooner we can use these measures to save lives.”
It’s not enough. But it’s a start.