Every day, gun violence is taking its toll on America. But in the last month, it’s particularly felt palpable. Yet after three mass shooting attacks, multiple attempted shooting attacks, and all the rest of the gun violence that’s become all too common in our everyday lives, Congress is proceeding with its August recess. And despite the House’s passage of two background checks bills earlier this year, Senate Republican leaders have yet to commit to holding a vote on any gun safety legislation.
As gridlock and deadlock on Capitol Hill remain despite the deadly reality facing the rest of the nation, just over 120 activists gathered at the East Las Vegas Community Center to make clear to Congress and the nation that “Enough is Enough” on the failure to act on the nation’s gun violence epidemic.
What makes this August recess feel so wrong, and why won’t Congress agree on anything to try to make it right?
Earlier this week, we caught up with Rep. Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas) at a back to school event near Henderson. When asked about Congress’ ongoing legislative gridlock, Lee stated, “[U.S. Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell [R-Kentucky], in my opinion, is a coward. He’s letting the NRA dictate what he does as Majority Leader. The American public needs to demand that the Senate act on these bills.”
Back in February, the Democratic-controlled House passed two bills to close loopholes that allow for certain gun sales without background checks: HR 8 to expand background checks requirements to online sales, gun shows, and other transfers that are currently used to evade the 1994 Brady Bill that was meant to establish universal background checks, and HR 1112 to establish a ten day waiting period for pending gun sales as they undergo background checks. Yet since then, the Republican-run Senate has taken no action on either bill.
While President Donald Trump has occasionally suggested he’s now open to this or that background checks proposal, neither he nor McConnell has actually committed to passing any legislation, let alone holding any votes on anything House Democrats send McConnell’s way. And while Congress is off for August recess, gun violence prevention advocates are holding events across the nation to keep the pressure on Senate Republican leaders to end their blockade on the House-passed background checks bills, and possibly on the House to go beyond just background checks and advance the more ambitious policies that some of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are advocating (such as an assault weapons ban, permit-to-purchase gun licensing, and repeal of legal immunity for gun manufacturers).
“I know it’s easier sometimes to stay quiet and grieve, but we can’t let this keep happening. We can save the life of a child, of a student, of a neighbor, of a coworker, of a family member. We have to stand up and take action. It’s our responsibility to take action.”
– Assembly Member Sandra Jauregui (D-Henderson)
One such event happened here in Las Vegas, held by local Everytown/Moms Demand Action activists to demand Congressional action on background checks and a national “red flag” law. As Assembly Member and 1 October survivor Sandra Jauregui summarized the situation, “We’re here because for too long, we’ve been asking the federal government to step in and step up to challenge the NRA. And for too long, they haven’t stood up to the challenge.”
Before the program, Jauregui spoke with us and explained why Parkland became a major turning point for her: “Every time I see another mass shooting happen, I feel the need for us to do something. Here in Nevada, I turned my grief into action. We took steps to make Nevada a safer place, but it’s not enough.” Jauregui sponsored AB 291, the other marquee gun safety bill of the 80th Session of the Nevada Legislature (alongside SB 143 to finally expand background checks beginning January 2020) to ban bump stocks (and similar accessories designed to make guns function as fully automatic), create a “red flag law” here in Nevada, and enact other new regulations.
As for what else may be done in the near future, Jauregui declined to endorse any specific policies to move in 2021, but she promised community partners will have seats at the table where decisions will be made on which bills to pursue. “We can all have a seat at the table and work on what kinds of measures are really going to make a difference,” Jauregui stated as she vowed to avoid a repeat of the Carson City “inside baseball” power-player politics that nearly derailed AB 291 this year.
Jauregui knows from personal experience how hard it can be for gun violence victims and survivors to speak up, yet she’s now doing so in order to prevent others from experiencing similar tragedies. For Jauregui, “I know it’s easier sometimes to stay quiet and grieve, but we can’t let this keep happening. We can save the life of a child, of a student, of a neighbor, of a coworker, of a family member. We have to stand up and take action. It’s our responsibility to take action.”
“The way we stop the bad guys with the guns is if we stop giving them guns. We keep giving these madmen access to guns, and we’re paying the price in blood.”
– Matthew DeFalco, military veteran and gun safety advocate
Clark County School District Trustee Linda Cavazos spoke on her own personal capacity about her own personal gun violence story: Her brother Louie died by suicide. Cavazos spoke of the feelings left behind by such loss: “When there are no words left, just tears and desperation and grief. […] With so many forever changed lives, what is there left to say? There is nothing left to say. There is only something to do.”
Cavazos then alluded to her current position when she noted the loss felt by families affected by the ongoing problem of school shootings: “We send them to school to learn, not subject them to lockdowns and active shooter drills that subject them to anxiety, depression, and fear.”
Matthew DeFalco, a Marine veteran turned gun violence prevention activist, then picked up where Cavazos left off: “They said we fought them over there so we wouldn’t fight them here, but that’s not happening, not when our children are afraid to go to school.” He continued, “This isn’t what we fought for. There’s no doubt over that.”
DeFalco then offered this advice, and a fix for the classic NRA saying about “bad guys with guns”: “The way we stop the bad guys with the guns is if we stop giving them guns. We keep giving these madmen access to guns, and we’re paying the price in blood.”
“There are children who will grow up without parents, and there are parents who will never see their children again. […] Mitch McConnell, we will not let our anger fade this time.”
– Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas)
As several of the speakers were sharing their respective stories of surviving gun violence, another soon rose to share his: Rep. Steven Horsford. “I’m not just here as a Congressman. I’m here as a gun violence survivor,” he explained. Horsford continued, “My father was gunned down at the corner of Lake Mead and Engelstad, just a few blocks from where I grew up and a block from where I’d later work at Nevada Partners.”
Just as Rep. Susie Lee did in Silverado Ranch on Monday, Horsford expressed his frustration over Senate Republicans’ refusal to take up the House-passed bills. As Horsford complained, “I’m here because I’m angry that we have to keep doing these events demanding action when we should have leaders who should be doing what’s right.” He then added, “The fact that one person, Mitch McConnell, allows that legislation to sit while lives are being lost is unconscionable and un-American.”
Horsford then declared, “Our communtiies have been gripped by gun violence and terrorism.” As he stated the 8,574 gun deaths, 17,000+ injuries, and 258 mass shootings that have already been recorded so far in 2019, Horsford called upon the White House and Congressional Republicans to end their legislative blockade: “There are children who will grow up without parents, and there are parents who will never see their children again. […] Mitch McConnell, we will not let our anger fade this time.” He continued, “These deaths are preventable, and the Senate must act now. What else are we waiting for, Mitch McConnell?”
“When I just think that I can’t keep going and I can’t keep fighting, I think of their stories: The ones who have lost children, and the ones who have lost moms and dads. If they can keep going with their pain, I can keep going for them.”
– Claire Hooper, Everytown/Moms Demand Action volunteer
After the program, we spoke with Moms Demand Action Henderson team leader Claire Hooper. So what keeps them going? For Hooper, they’ve already made progress in “repealing and replacing” hostile politicians here in Nevada with legislators who support action on gun violence prevention: “In our state, we know our Senators 100% support us, and we know they’ll go to bat for us for federal background checks. As [Moms Demand Action founder] Shannon Watts says, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. When we feel defeated, there’s always something that brings us back up.”
While Hooper herself has not experienced the pain of loss due to gun violence, she has met victims in survivors who now volunteer with Everytown, and Hooper explained how these survivors’ resiliency encourages her to stay in this fight: “When I just think that I can’t keep going and I can’t keep fighting, I think of their stories: The ones who have lost children, and the ones who have lost moms and dads. If they can keep going with their pain, I can keep going for them.”
All too often, it’s easy for us to get cynical when we see this Groundhog Day style pattern of mass shooting(s) followed by calls for “thoughts and prayers” followed by talk of “doing something” followed by the usual inaction and “blame game” on Capitol Hill. Today dozens of activists took time off from their weekend plans to say “Enough!” to the Groundhog Day cosplay, but it remains to be seen how many of the Nevada delegation’s colleagues in Congress will actually listen.