America hasn’t addressed its brutal gun violence crisis because of cowardly, callous leadership. It’s time for someone to be courageous.

moms demand acton gun violence protest
Moms Demand Action hosted a Recess Rally and community gathering at Foley Square to honor the victims of gun violence

  • The US has been plagued by an epidemic of gun violence, and deaths have been soaring recently.
  • Despite this our political leaders have done nothing substantial to curb the decades-long problem.
  • It’s time for Joe Biden and the Democrats to be courageous and tackle gun safety once and for all.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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Two months ago my column focused on the need to take action to address America’s gun crisis. I was worried mass shootings would speed up as the COVID pandemic slowed down. But none of us could have imagined how tragic the following weeks would be.

There is not enough room in this column to do justice to the 45 mass shootings we have experienced in the United States over the past six weeks. This outbreak of violence started in Atlanta and the shootings have not abated since then. Eight people, including four members of the Sikh community, were killed in Indianapolis on April 15. On April 6, a respected community doctor and his family were killed in South Carolina. On March 26, 10 people were murdered while grocery shopping in Boulder, Colorado. The list goes on, and on, and on.

So far, our lawmakers have provided the usual pablum. The Republicans have, as usual, offered their thoughts and prayers, while offering nothing substantive besides making it easier to obtain a gun. While Democrats from various states have proposed and even passed gun control measures in the wake of these shootings, and Joe Biden has released a list of proposals to help curb the violence, nothing has been done to truly end the epidemic of gun deaths ravaging this country.

What level of tragedy would finally force this country to make real change?

What’s it going to take?

Since the first modern mass shooting at Columbine High School, the US has failed to move in a substantial way on gun safety. While there have been red flag laws passed in some (mostly Democratic) states, just as many states have loosened their firearm laws to allow for open and concealed carry. Federal legislation has gone nowhere, and the Supreme Court has ruled in the District of Columbia vs. Heller that Americans have a fundamental right to possess firearms.

We’ve had Newtown, Parkland, and many others – anyone of which should’ve spurred us into action. We have had 180 shootings in schools alone over the past 10 years, with 356 victims who all had long and happy lives ahead of them. Yet we have done nothing. And there is no reason for hope that the Supreme Court will make our children any safer as it pledges to take on a new Second Amendment case.

The opportunity of crisis

As people across the US have started to get vaccinated against COVID, the veneer of protection against gun deaths is fading and there is no vaccine-like solution on the horizon.

And much like misinformation that drove up the case and death toll during the pandemic, the increase in mass shootings and corresponding inaction of Congress tie directly back to the rise of the extreme right media on cable and social media.

Tucker Carlson claimed that Biden wants to take guns away from law-abiding citizens, which is a claim more at home at a Republican rally than a purported news site. The GOP’s official position is that background checks are outrageous and evil, despite 84% percent of Americans supporting them. There is hardly an issue in 2021 that most Americans agree on, but expanded background checks is one of them. Yet Republicans continue to stand in the way.

Other countries don’t have the same problem. After a horrific mass shooting in 1996, Australia outlawed assault-style weapons. Despite what Republicans might have you believe, Australia has not turned into a despotic dictatorship over the intervening 25 years. In fact, most every other country on Earth has fewer guns and fewer gun deaths than the United States.

Now or never

President Joe Biden has juggled a number of crises in his short time in office, but he has not prioritized gun safety. He urged Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, which like background checks is very popular with voters. Perhaps he can come up with a different, uniquely American solution to this uniquely American problem.

It is understandable that Joe Biden doesn’t want to lose his frighteningly narrow majorities in Congress, but his party must take action now while they have the opportunity to get it done. The Democrats have the ideas, they have the public’s support, and they have numbers. The only thing, it would seem, that they are missing is the political will to make a change.

After a full year of one kind of devastating tragedy, we have been faced with a month of another. One that in some ways feels more tangible than a virus. In the 100 days since Biden’s inauguration, he has shown he is up to the task of fighting the invisible killer that has been plaguing America for the past year. Now he must step up and fight the killer that has damaged and taken the lives of thousands of Americans for the past 30.

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The Supreme Court will decide if New York’s limits on concealed carry violate the Second Amendment

Supreme Court
In this Nov. 2, 2020, file photo an American flag waves in front of the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Supreme Court punted on a case over whether the Trump administration can exclude people in the country illegally from the count used for divvying up congressional seats.

  • The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of NY State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Corlett in the Fall.
  • The plaintiffs in the case argue that New York’s restrictions make it “virtually impossible” to obtain a gun license for public carry.
  • The Supreme Court previously granted protections for people to own guns in their homes but did not rule on firearm ownership outside the home.
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The Supreme Court is taking up a gun control case to determine if New York’s limits on concealed carry violate the Second Amendment.

The case – NY State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Corlett – raises the question of whether there is a constitutional right to carry guns outside the home.

New York’s current handgun laws date back to 1913 and require “proper cause” to obtain a concealed carry handgun license, meaning that any applicant must show “a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.”

Several states, such as Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maryland, Hawaii, Delaware, and California currently have similar gun restrictions in their law books.

The case of NY State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Corlett includes two New York men who were denied public-carry handgun licenses for not meeting the “proper cause” standard. The plaintiffs claim in their Cert Petition that New York’s law makes it “virtually impossible for the ordinary law-abiding citizen to obtain a license” due to the proper cause requirements.

The plaintiffs in the case petitioned the Supreme Court to rule over “whether the Second Amendment allows the government to prohibit ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying handguns outside the home for self-defense,” however the court agreed on a slightly different question: “Whether the state’s denial of petitioners’ applications for concealed-carry licenses for self-defense violated the Second Amendment.”

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in the District of Columbia et al. v. Heller that Washington D.C.’s former ban on handguns in the home violated the Second Amendment. The prior regulations required that any person who owned a gun had to store it unloaded and disassembled or restricted by a trigger lock when not in use. The Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment guaranteed the right to own a gun inside the home for self-defense but did not grant additional protections outside of the home.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs’ case against New York’s gun laws, the decision could drastically alter local government and Congressional attempts to legislate stronger gun protections and could lead to rewriting decades of judicial precedent over firearm restrictions as mass shootings inundate the nation.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Gun rights advocates are pushing to create Second Amendment sanctuaries in a bid to flout federal gun laws

Texas Ft. Worth gun show
Guns for sale at a gun show in Fort Worth, Texas, July 10, 2016.

  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing for the state to become a Second Amendment sanctuary.
  • Second Amendment sanctuaries ignore federal or state gun laws they consider restrictive.
  • In recent years they’ve become a tactic among gun rights advocates to push back against federal restrictions.
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On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted in support of gun rights just hours before a deadly mass shooting in Bryan, Texas.

The shooting – the state’s 14th so far this year – left one dead and five injured and came at a particularly inopportune moment. Abbott is in the midst of a campaign to turn Texas into a Second Amendment sanctuary state – a state where federal gun restrictions would be ignored in favor of local laws more favorable to gun rights.

The legislation to make Texas a sanctuary state was introduced in February by Texas State Rep. Justin Holland. If passed, Texas will join Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Wyoming, and Arizona, along with around 400 counties in 20 states, that have also designated themselves as gun rights sanctuaries.

The push to make Texas a Second Amendment sanctuary comes amid several executive orders from President Joe Biden calling for increased gun control measures, including a push for “red flag” legislation modeling, an investment in evidence-based community interventions, and measures to stop the proliferation of “ghost guns” – guns made out of purchased parts that are untraceable by authorities.

“Basically, we’re freezing Texas state law and federal laws in place that have to do with guns,” Holland told The El Paso Times. “And (we’re) not recognizing, at the state level, any federal changes.”

What are Second Amendment sanctuaries?

Second Amendment sanctuaries are meant to combat the perceived infringement of gun rights in a variety of forms. Cities, counties, and states alike can and have declared themselves second amendment sanctuaries in the US.

Those infringements might include laws requiring universal background checks prior to gun purchase, or bans on particular weaponry, including assault and automatic weapons, or red flag laws that allow law enforcement or family members to “flag” that a person with a gun may be a danger to themselves or others.

Worker inspects AR-15 gun in Utah
A worker inspects an AR-15 gun at Davidson Defense in Orem, Utah on March 20, 2020. – Gun stores in the US are reporting a surge in sales of firearms as coronavirus fears trigger personal safety concerns.

The trend of Second Amendment sanctuary cities and states began in earnest in 2018, when Effingham County, Illinois, passed a series of resolutions opposing bump stock bans and a mandatory 72-hour waiting period on gun purchases, along with a litany of other gun control measures.

Since then, more than 70 counties in Illinois have passed some kind of Second Amendment sanctuary legislation, The Trace reported.

In 2019, more than 120 cities and counties in Virginia declared themselves gun rights sanctuaries, in backlash to a Democrat sweep in state elections.

Last week, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that bans local and state governments and agencies from enforcing federal gun laws that are “inconsistent with or more restrictive than state law.”

Ducey told reporters the law was meant to be “a proactive law for what is possible to come out of the Biden administration.”

black gun club
Members of the Hudson Valley Nubian Gun Club practice at a shooting range in Monroe, New York, on July 30, 2020.

‘Renegade’ sheriffs opt out of enforcing federal law

Second Amendment sanctuaries often emerge from a refusal to enforce existing federal law.

Often, that decision comes from so-called “renegade” sheriffs and police who simply choose not to recognize laws they feel step on gun owners’ rights.

They consider themselves “constitutional sheriffs” and believe, according to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, that “the vertical separation of powers in the Constitution makes it clear that the power of the sheriff even supersedes the powers of the President.”

In Culpeper, Virginia, Sheriff Scott Jenkins went so far as to write on Facebook that “if necessary,” he would “properly screen and deputize thousands of our law-abiding citizens to protect their constitutional right to own firearms.”

Voters in Washington, Oregon, New Mexico, Virginia, and Illinois, among others, have all passed resolutions in support of local sheriffs who believe federal gun laws are unconstitutional.

church gun
A volunteer member of the congregation at Joyful Heart Church poses for a portrait with her concealed handgun inside the church in Stockdale, Texas on Sunday, January 26, 2020.

Even where Second Amendment sanctuary isn’t officially declared, some sheriffs have taken it upon themselves to buck federal gun laws.

Bob Norris, the sheriff of Kootenai County, Idaho, told reporters last month he wouldn’t enforce federal gun laws, regardless of whether the county voted to become a Second Amendment sanctuary or not.

“I would just like to tell you that regardless of what you decide here today, and regardless of what they decide in Washington, DC, there will be no gun confiscation here in Kootenai County,” Norris said at a local press conference. “Period.”

Three days after Norris’ press conference, the proposal to establish the county as a Second Amendment sanctuary fell flat after the Board of County Commissioners declined to support it by a vote of two to one.

Second Amendment sanctuary declarations are largely symbolic

But can these sanctuary declarations be enforced?

“A state, like Texas, declaring itself a “sanctuary” doesn’t invalidate federal law from operating in Texas,” Darrell Miller, co-faculty director of the Center for Firearms Law and a faculty member at Duke Law School, told Insider. If local law enforcement opts not to enforce gun laws, then “the FBI, ATF, and Department of Justice can still enforce federal law there.”

Miller cited the Supremacy Clause, which says that the Constitution “shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

gun control
A demonstrator holds a sign depicting an assault rifle at a protest against President Trump’s visit, following a mass shooting which left at least 22 people dead, on August 7, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. Protestors also called for gun control and denounced white supremacy. Trump is scheduled to visit the city today. A 21-year-old white male suspect remains in custody in El Paso which sits along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Second Amendment sanctuary declarations “don’t have force of law,” Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, told USA Today after local jurisdictions began passing gun sanctuary bills in the state. “They are policy statements. They don’t empower localities to turn a blind eye to what is state law.”

Sanford V. Levinson, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas Law School, told Insider sanctuary declarations don’t nullify existing federal laws, but they can make it difficult to enforce them – which is the point.

“The laws are not invalid; it’s simply that the national government will be left on its own re the mechanisms of enforcement,” he said – which, given limited resources and budgets, means the federal government will often turn a blind eye.

Should the government want to compel local authorities to enforce federal law, they’d likely run into problems because the Supreme Court has already ruled that the federal government can’t “commandeer” state officials to enforce federal law, Levinson said, citing New York vs. United States 505 US 144.

“It simply comes down to whether the federal government wants to make it a case. But if the national government is willing to pay the price, then it will prevail,” he continued.

“It’s one thing for the sheriffs to say, ‘We’re not going to lift a finger to help you take guns away from our people,'” Tung Yin, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, told Oregon Live. “That’s OK. It’s another thing for the sheriffs to say, ‘Not only are we not going to lift a finger to help you, we’re going to do everything we can to stop you.'”

But that’s exactly what’s happened in Newton County, Missouri, where local lawmakers passed a Second Amendment Act that allows local law enforcement to arrest any federal agents attempting to enforce federal gun laws – though Miller says the statute isn’t actually enforceable.

Lindsey Graham shooting
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham uses images of handguns and rifles during a hearing about gun control on Capitol Hill January 30, 2013 in Washington, DC.

“The general proposition is that federal officers cannot be prosecuted by state or local authorities for acts done in furtherance of their official duties,” Miller told Insider, citing In re: Neagle, an 1890 Supreme Court case ruling that said federal agents are immune from local prosecution if operating in the furtherance of federal law.

Newton County, Missouri, Sheriff Chris Jennings did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Texas governor says shooting victim’s family wants Second Amendment sanctuary

The passage of ag Second Amendment sanctuary resolution is all but a foregone conclusion in Texas, a state where nearly half of all adult residents – 45.7% – live with a gun in the house, according to a 2020 Rand research project.

Gun control advocates say they’re gearing up for a court battle either way.

“The outcome for a bill like this would almost inevitably be a challenge in court,” Jim Henson, the executive director of The Texas Politics Project, told KXAN. “It’s hard not to see this as part of an effort to test the boundaries at how much states can push back against federal and constitutional provisions.”

During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Gov. Abbott told host Chris Wallace he spoke with the family of the victims of the Bryan, Texas, shooting, who told him they supported the sanctuary state plan.

“I went to the hospital where the victims’ families were on the night of the shooting. And we hugged, and we cried, and we talked to them about it. As I was talking to family members of one of the victims, they said: ‘Governor, please, do not allow this shooting to strip us of our Second Amendment rights,'” he said.

bryan texas shooting
Barricades block the road leading up to the entrance of Kent Moore Cabinets in Bryan, Texas after a mass shooting at the facility on on on on April 8, 2021.

While Second Amendment sanctuary status may be largely symbolic, it speaks to a growing divide in the US over gun violence and how to quell it, especially after a year in which firearm-related incidents took the lives of more than 19,000 people – the highest number of gun-related deaths in 20 years, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

“The nation has experienced a historic increase in violent crime in the past year. People want and need to protect themselves,” Joyce Malcolm, the Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University School of Law, told Insider. “The number of FBI background checks for gun purchases continues to hit new records. January and March 2021 are the only time in the history of the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System gun checks have broken four million.”

According to the Washington Post, more than two million guns were sold in the US in January alone – an 80% increase over the same month in 2020.

“Americans are buying guns at a blistering pace,” Malcolm added. “They will NOT give them up.”

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Trump compared the Democratic Party to the MS-13 gang at a Georgia rally

Donald-Trump-face
President Donald Trump.

  • President Donald Trump on Saturday compared the Democratic Party to the street gang MS-13 at a rally in Valdosta, Georgia, part of his latest barrage of insults lobbed at the the party that denied him a second term in the White House.
  • “We moved thousands and thousands of MS-13 the hell out of our country,” Trump said. “They’re vicious, but they’re not stupid. Sort of like the Democrats if you think about it.”
  • Trump was headlining a rally for GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who face stiff challenges from Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the January 2021 Senate runoff elections.
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President Donald Trump on Saturday compared the Democratic Party to the street gang MS-13 at a rally in Valdosta, Georgia, part of his latest barrage of insults lobbed at the the party that denied him a second term in the White House.

Trump, headlining a rally for GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who face stiff challenges from Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the January 2021 Senate runoff elections, compared the party that he has battled over his nearly four years in office to a notorious gang that has infiltrated many American cities and suburbs.

The president accused Democrats of wanting to implement so-called sanctuary cities, localities where officials have declined to cooperate with federal authorities in turning over immigrants who have been identified or targeted for deportation, which he said would attract criminals. 

“That’s what they [Democrats] want,” Trump said. “Freeing criminal aliens and MS-13 gang members – the most vicious people … They like using knives … To wreak havoc and terror upon innocent families. We moved thousands and thousands of MS-13 the hell out of our country. Some we put in prison because they’re too dangerous. They’re not stupid. They’re vicious, but they’re not stupid. Sort of like the Democrats if you think about it.”

While Trump has consistently used law and order messaging to assail Democrats on policing and border security, his dark tone carried over to ominous warnings about gun rights.

President-elect Joe Biden has backed an array of gun safety measures over the course of his career, but he has never supported a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Nonetheless, Trump warned that if Democrat were to control the Senate, they would “confiscate privately owned firearms” and “totally cut up your Second Amendment rights.”

With control of the Senate on the line with the two Georgia races, Trump is attempting to influence one last part of his legacy before he leaves office in January.

If Democrats can pick up both Senate seats, they’ll split the chamber 50-50, but Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s tie-breaking vote would give the party majority control, allowing them to control the Senate legislative agenda for the first time since 2015. They would then have the ability to confirm Biden’s Cabinet and judicial nominees.

With Republicans in control of the chamber, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be a check on the Biden administration, holding up Cabinet nominees that the party finds objectionable and more than likely tabling the president-elect’s most ambitious legislative items.

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