In a pair of statements tailored to tug at Americans heart strings, the President and Speaker of the House call for unprecedently strict gun control measures on the anniversary of the Parkland school shooting.
On Valentines Day, three years ago, 14 students and 3 teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were senselessly murdered during a shooting spree by a former student. While America mourned, some Democratic politicians capitalized on the opportunity to push a new wave of gun control measures. Even though their efforts did not result in any change to federal law, a new majority in the House, Senate, and control of the White House revamped their drive.
The then-Presidential candidate made it apparent on the campaign trial that he and his administration would make gun control a priority in his administration.
“For three years now,” Biden’s February 14th statement read, “the Parkland families have spent birthdays and holidays without their loved ones. They’ve missed out on the experience of sending their children off to college or seeing them on their first job after high school. Like far too many families, they’ve had to bury pieces of their soul deep within the Earth. Like far too many families — and, indeed, like our nation — they’ve been left to wonder whether things would ever be okay.”
Biden went on to list common areas which have tragically had deadly rampages tied to their setting, implying nowhere is safe. “All across our nation, parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends have known the pain of losing a loved one to gun violence. And in this season of so much loss, last year’s historic increase in homicides across America, including the gun violence disproportionately devastating Black and Brown individuals in our cities, has added to the number of empty seats at our kitchen tables.”
Violent crime and murder has spiked in 2020, despite most Americans being locked in their homes for the majority of the year. But these upticks in gun crimes are not happening in rural and suburban areas where gun laws are lax, they’re primarily occurring in major metropolitans where legal guns are few and far between, and the immense systemic hurdles are put in place preventing law abiding citizens from exercising their rights.
Over these three years, the Parkland families have taught all of us something profound. Time and again, they have showed us how we can turn our grief into purpose – to march, organize, and build a strong, inclusive, and durable movement for change.
The Parkland students and so many other young people across the country who have experienced gun violence are carrying forward the history of the American journey. It is a history written by young people in each generation who challenged prevailing dogma to demand a simple truth: we can do better. And we will.
This Administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call. We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer. Today, I am calling on Congress to enact commonsense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets. We owe it to all those we’ve lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change. The time to act is now.White House statement on the 3rd anniversary of the Parkland Shooting
The President went on to use this national tragedy to push a radical change in American gun policy, rather, what he deems “commonsense gun law reforms.” Biden calls for Congress to institute mandatory background checks on all gun purchases, ban the undefined “assault weapon” & high-capacity magazines, and revoke liability protection from gun manufacturers.
Currently, all cartridge firing firearm transfers from a federal dealer requires a background check. Some states enacted a similar rule for transfers of used firearms between two private parties, while some states leave that area unregulated. In order to enforce universal background checks, the government would need to compile a complete and absolute catalog of every gun owner and their firearms if the ATF wants any hope of tracking who’s buying and who’s selling guns absent an FFL middleman. Many conservatives fear that would lead to easier future gun confiscations and an encroachment on privacy.
Legally purchased firearms are rarely used in crimes. Universal background checks would do little to stop criminals from using weapons to commit acts of violence if they’re all bought illegally. Only 7% prisoners who used a gun in the crime they were convicted of bought it from a retail source. 25% either received it as a gift from a family member or friends. Depending on the state, that is also illegal. More than half either stole the firearm or bought it on the black market.
Biden uses a lobbyist coined term not used by the firearm industry – assault weapons – to classify a large segment semi-automatic sporting arms with assorted and largely aesthetic features that add little to no lethality to the firearm. Examples include the AR-15 and other variants. Features like a pistol grip, threaded barrels, or a collapsible buttstocks are all under fire. The location of the firearm’s grip adds no functionality to a firearm’s potential danger. Threaded barrels allow users to add safety accessories such as compensators or suppressors – which bring noise levels down from a deafening 165 decibels to a manageable 132 decibels, though still louder than a chainsaw. An adjustable buttstock merely allows shooters of all sizes to comfortably and safely use the firearm. The only two components responsible for a guns lethality is its barrel and caliber.
Biden’s proposal is a misguided attack on a class of weapons that are by all available data almost never used in homicides. According to FBI data, of the 13,900 murders in 2019, only 364 were confirmed to be by rifle – any rifle, not just assault weapons. That’s less than 3% of yearly murders. Handguns made up almost 6,400 of those deaths, or nearly half. A similar trend is seen during mass shootings. Rifles, of any kind, were only used 28% of the time. While rifles are used in mass shootings at a rate of 10x more frequently, they still represent a small minority of incidents.
It’s also worth noting school shootings between 1992 and 2016 are on the decline. Incidents where at least one person was killed in a school by a firearm has dropped from 15-35 per year during the 90’s to less than 10 after 2005. Most years that number hovered around 5. Most years do not have a single incident with more than 4 fatalities – the FBI definition of a mass shooting – and incidents with at least two fatalities are also rare. The rate of children dying in a school shooting is also down to less than 1 in 10 million per year.
‘High capacity’ magazines is an arbitrary classification as standard magazine capacity varies from firearm to firearm and from era to era.
The firearm industry shares a privilege felt by literally every other manufacturing sector where they are not liable for injuries derived from product misuse. As long as a gun company does not market their product for criminal activity, they are not liable if their firearm is used in a crime. Ford is not liable if their vehicle is used during a drunk driving collision. Apple is not liable if a hacker used a MacBook. Those are not the intended uses of their products, just as firearm manufacturers do not intend for their product to be used in a mass shooting.
Unfortunately, Remington filed for bankruptcy in 2019 after family members of the Sandy Hook shooting sued the company because a maniac used their product in a way they never condoned. Even though firearm manufactures must sell through an FFL, a judge ruled they can be sued using a standard never applied to any other industry.
Speaker Pelosi, in a much shorter statement, shared in Biden’s call for Congress to pass “life-saving” background check enhancers. She adds, “Democrats join the American people to renew our commitment to our unfinished work to ensure that no family or community is forced to endure the pain of gun violence.”
This move echoes a draconian bill introduced by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18) earlier this year. H.R. 127 outlines a way for Democrats to accomplish what Biden called for and more. On top of the national ban on modern sporting rifles and universal background checks, the bill would establish a national publicly searchable registry of all gun owners and their firearms. Employers, neighbors, or strangers could look up anyone in their life and see which firearms they own. It would also require a federally issued firearms license and mandatory $800 per year firearm insurance, all of which would act as a ‘poll tax’ equivalent barrier to entry for gun owners. Violators would be subject to up to 25 years in prison and $150,000 in fines.