Valentine’s Day this year was a bittersweet day because it was also the first anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The massacre took the lives of 14 students and three staff members who worked at the school.
All week long, as I read of the continuing efforts nationally of the brave survivors of the Parkland shootings, a phrase kept running through my mind: “And a little child shall lead them.” When I searched for the origin of the phrase, I learned that it is from the Book of Isaiah in the Bible.
And it seemed so appropriate, as the so-called “adults” in the various state legislatures and especially in the Congress have done nothing to curb gun violence. Not since the massacre in Newtown, Conn. Not since the massacre at the concert in Nevada. And other obscene massacres and mass shootings.
The NRA has been very, very busy, threatening any elected official who wanted to limit the number of guns someone could buy in the course of a month or a year or to limit the coordination of national databases on who should not be able to buy a gun because of issues like arrests and felonies in their background.
But along with the continuing efforts of the remarkable young people from Parkland, aided by their parents — and by grieving family members who lost children in the massacre — there is a sea change in Congress. The Democrats now control the agenda in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Pennsylvania has four new female members of the Democratic caucus there. The times they are a-changing! For the first time in eight years, the House Judiciary Committee held hearings on ways to curb gun violence.
Two of our new members of Congress, U.S. Reps. Madeleine Dean and Mary Gay Scanlon, were front and center in the House Judiciary Committee hearings. And they were both advocates, resulting in two essential gun safety bills, H.R. 8 and H.R. 1112, passing their committee. H.R. 8 requires universal background checks, and H.R. 1112 closes the “Charleston Loophole” by strengthening background check procedures for firearm sales.
“Today marks one year since Parkland,” said Judiciary Committee member Rep. Dean. “In that time, guns have killed another 40,000 Americans, and another 80,000 people have been wounded in the crossfire. These are our neighbors and fellow citizens. It’s time we start protecting them.”
These votes represent progress.
“Ninety-seven percent of Americans support universal background checks,” said Rep. Dean. “Right now, however, loopholes in our laws allow firearm purchases from non-licensed sellers — including at gun shows or online — with no background check at all. That’s a problem. We know that one in nine online buyers would not pass a background check at a gun dealer. We also know that when states implement background check laws, we save lives.”
The second bill, H.R. 1112, fixes the “Charleston loophole” — otherwise known as “default proceed.” Under current federal law, if gun dealers initiate background checks and are not notified within three business days that the sale would violate federal or state laws, they are permitted to go forward with the sale.
“Law-abiding citizens can rest assured that they’ll face no undue burden. Over 90 percent of background checks are completed within minutes, and that won’t change,” said Rep. Dean. “In some cases, though, federal law enforcement officials need more time to investigate. When we don’t give them that time, we endanger our communities.”
Tragically, that is what happened in 2015, when Dylann Roof killed nine worshipers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Roof had failed a background check, but because the check wasn’t completed in three days, he was free to buy a gun.
“In 2017, nearly 5,000 prohibited purchasers were able to buy guns simply because their background checks hadn’t cleared in three days,” said Rep. Dean.
The committee did so, approving H.R. 8 by a vote of 23-15 and H.R. 1112 by a vote of 22-14.
“Over the past year, we have been inspired by the courage and activism of Parkland’s students,” said Rep. Dean. “They have insisted that America take action to prevent another tragedy like the one that tore their community apart. And we stand alongside them.”
U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, who was just elected vice chair of the Judiciary Committee in Congress, is a proud co-sponsor of one of the first bills introduced in this new Congress, HR 8, a bill to close the loopholes in our background check laws. She pledges to continue advocating for sensible gun reform in Washington. She said that we must act to end the gun violence epidemic in our homes, our schools, our places of worship and our communities.
Pioneering advocates like Lynne Honickman, Connie Williams and Shira Goodman must be cheering.