Gun control back on the table with Dems taking the House
NEWTOWN - California’s gun massacre is pressuring Washington lawmakers once again to confront America’s mass-shooting crisis.
For Newtown activists, the call for gun safety laws is an all-too-frequent appeal for national action that has failed to bring significant changes since the 2012 massacre of 26 first-graders and educators at Sandy Hook School.
But something changed last week that has both sides of the gun policy debate here expecting more movement on federal gun safety legislation in 2019.
The majority that voters gave Democrats in the House of Representatives on Tuesday means a series of gun violence prevention measures could be advanced in 2019, including universal background checks and a ban on assault rifles.
Nicole Hockley, the high-profile mother of a 6-year-old boy who was slain in the Sandy Hook massacre, was quick to point out that it’s uncertain what the disposition will be in the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House.
“I believe the House will put forward lots of measure about access and gun safety and mental health, but I don’t know how the Senate will respond,” said Hockley, a co-founder and managing director of the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise. “But I think we are seeing a lot more pressure on Congress from around the country for Americans to do something meaningful to stop this epidemic of gun violence.”
In that spirit, the Newtown-based trade association for the firearms industry said on Friday that it welcomes measures to keep guns away from children, criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, and those who cannot be trusted to handle firearms safely and responsibly.
“We will evaluate any legislation introduced through that prism,” said Michael Bazinet, a spokesman for the 12,000-member National Shooting Sports Foundation, adding that legislation would also have to support the Second Amendment rights of Americans.
It is not the first time that Sandy Hook Promise and the NSSF have somewhat agreed on gun policy.
In March both organizations praised bills signed by President Donald Trump that closed reporting loopholes in the national firearms background check system, and that provided $100 million in grants for violence prevention programs, such as those run by Sandy Hook Promise.
The midterm election of Jahana Hayes as the 5th District’s new Congresswoman, along with a wave of Democrats who ran on platforms to pass gun violence prevention laws, will have Second Amendment activists watching closely.
“Those Congressional electees have won some power back,” said Scott Wilson, president of the 30,000-member Connecticut Citizens Defense League. “Hopefully they will have discussions that can improve safety without impacting on legal gun owners.”
Wilson, whose group endorsed Hayes’ GOP opponent Manny Santos, said the suspect in the California gun massacre was first and foremost a lawbreaker whose crime could not have been anticipated and prevented by legislation.
The suspect, a decorated former Marine identified as Ian David Long, was accused of murdering 12 people with a Glock handgun at a college bar in Thousand Oaks, and then killing himself.
“Anybody can snap and there is no precaution for that,” Wilson said.
The leader the nonprofit Newtown Action Alliance disagreed, saying now is the time for gun violence prevention legislation, including background checks on all gun sales and raising the minimum age for gun sales to 21.
“We have learned that if a mass shooting can happen in an elementary school in Sandy Hook, then it can happen anywhere,” said Po Murray, chair of the Newtown Action Alliance, in a prepared statement. “Until the federal government puts public safety first by passing a set of comprehensive gun control laws, more and more Americans everywhere will be killed or injured.”
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
A spokesman for Hayes — who was on vacation and not available for comment — said she was committed to making gun violence prevention a priority in 2019.
“Jahana made the need for gun reform a major component of her campaign, absolutely,” said Andrew Doba.