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Here’s Some Background on Congress’ New Background Checks Bills

Last night, President Donald Trump delivered an address on the “humanitarian and security crisis at the border”, yet offered no solution for the real humanitarian crisis caused by his own anti-immigrant policies or the national security problems he claims he wants to solve. Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats introduced new legislation earlier in the day that actually does address a real national security problem that’s affecting communities across the nation.

So what’s in the new bills, and how do they address the real security threat of unchecked gun violence? Here’s what we need to know about HR 8 and S 42.

Despite recent downtick, gun violence remains a very serious and very deadly problem
Photo by Andrew Davey

Amidst all the recent concerns over national security and personal safety, we might actually have a tiny bit of good news to report. According to initial Gun Violence Archive estimates, non-suicide gun deaths dropped nearly 7% last year from 2017 levels. So far, the initial data shows declines across the board, from accidental shootings to child shootings and mass shootings.

However, there are some critical caveats. For one, Gun Violence Archive data excludes most suicides, which accounted for over half of the gun deaths counted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2017. And despite last year’s apparent decline, the U.S. still accounts for about 15% of the world’s gun deaths despite having less than 5% of the world’s population. Another way to look at this is to note that our rate of violent gun deaths is eight times higher than that of Canada, over ten times higher than that of the U.K. and Japan, and far higher than that of nearly all other highly developed countries.

As we’ve examined before, these countries all have stronger and stricter gun laws than what we have at the federal level here. So what’s being done about it? For one, we’ve seen recent movement at the state and local levels (including here in Nevada). And now, we’re seeing new legislation in Congress to pursue some kind of nationwide solution to this very pervasive and very real problem.

What would HR 8 do to fix this problem?
Photo by Andrew Davey

Even after last year’s apparent downtick, Gun Violence Archive is still reporting that over 14,000 Americans died from homicidal or accidental gun violence in 2018. According to CDC data, Nevada had the 15th highest rate of gun deaths in 2016. And thanks to antiquated federal laws and (now former) state officials’ refusal to enforce a voter-approved initiative in this state, people can avoid undergoing a background check by obtaining guns at gun shows and/or online.

Enter HR 8, the brand new federal background checks bill introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-California) and co-sponsored by a growing bipartisan group of colleagues, including Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas). Meanwhile on the Senate side, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D) and Jacky Rosen (D) are both cosponsoring the S 42 companion bill.

If HR 8 and/or S 42 becomes law, 18th-20th century federal law will finally catch up with 21st century commerce and technology by closing the loopholes that allow the evasion of background checks by obtaining guns online or at gun show parking lots. Even if Nevada soon joins the ranks of 18 other states and D.C. in expanding background checks, a new federal law will set in place a nationwide baseline that requires all pending gun sales to go through a check for various criminal convictions, restraining orders, and mental health reports before completion.

So why won’t the White House take action on this crisis?

For the past three weeks, President Donald Trump and his White House team have been trying to spin his $5 billion+ border wall ransom demand as a “crisis” that can only be solved by “The Wall”. In reality, the only immigration related crisis that’s occurring has been worsened by Trump’s own anti-immigrant actions. Meanwhile when it comes to the very real security threat of rampant gun violence, Trump’s response has been limited at best and counterproductive at worst.

During an appearance on CNN yesterday, March for Our Lives co-founder David Hogg addressed Trump’s strange approach to matters of national security as he declared, “If we really want to start talking about the national emergency like the president likes to talk about, 40,000 Americans dying annually from gun violence is a pretty damn good one to start off with.”

So why isn’t this national security getting as much attention as the manufactured crisis that’s caused the current government shutdown? Even if Trump refuses to give a primetime address on gun violence like he did on his own shutdown shitshow last night, it’s something that deserves more of our attention. And finally, after many years of neglect, Congress may finally be reassessing their priorities and paying more attention to the real threat at home.

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