US finally acts to tighten gun control

WASHINGTON, 24 June 2022:

The US Senate yesterday passed a bipartisan gun control bill – the first major federal gun safety legislation in decades.

It comes following mass shootings in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York City, and in a school in Uvalde, Texas.

This is the first time in decades that the Republicans and Democrats have both agreed to vote in favour of stronger gun control.

The bill will now move to the House of Representatives, where Democrats have a majority, before going to president Joe Biden to sign.

The bill went ahead with the support of all 50 Democratic senators, joined by 15 Republicans – including Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell – while 33 other conservatives voted against it.

“Tonight, after 28 years of inaction, bipartisan members of Congress came together to heed the call of families across the country and passed legislation to address the scourge of gun violence in our communities,” Biden said in a statement.

“Families in Uvalde and Buffalo – and too many tragic shootings before – have demanded action. And tonight, we acted.”

Biden assured the bill will “help protect Americans” and that children in schools and communities will be safer, and urged the House to approve the measure so that it be signed into law.

The bill includes tougher background checks on those under 21 years of age buying weapons, and millions in funding for mental health, crisis management, school upgrades and to incentivise states to implement “red flag” laws to confiscate firearms from those representing a danger to themselves or others.

In addition, the bill also closes “the boyfriend loophole” to keep weapons out of the hands of the dating partners of domestic abusers – extended from those married to, living with, or who have a child with the person.

Just hours earlier, the Supreme Court issued US expanded gun rights by finding that a New York law requiring residents to prove good reason to carry firearms in public violates the constitution.

The court ruled that a 1911 New York law restricting the carrying of a concealed handgun in public, a decision certain to intensify the debate about the Constitution’s Second Amendment, which establishes a right to bear arms, in the wake of recent mass shootings.

The New York legislation required people seeking a concealed-carry permit to provide justification for why they needed to go about armed.

Seven other states – California, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island – have similar laws that are unlikely to stand in light of yesterday’s Supreme Court decision.

“This ruling contradicts both common sense and the Constitution, and should deeply trouble us all,” Biden said in a statement.

The court ruled on a suit brought by two individuals and the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association after authorities rejected the individuals’ applications for concealed-carry permits.

All six of the court’s conservative justices – three of them appointed by Donald Trump – voted to overturn the New York law, while the three liberal members took the opposite view.

Writing for the majority, justice Clarence Thomas said New York’s requirement to demonstrate a need to carry a weapon had the effect of turning the Second Amendment into a “second-class right”.

“That is not how the First Amendment works when it comes to unpopular speech or the free exercise of religion. It is not how the Sixth Amendment works when it comes to a defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him.”

In his dissent, justice Stephen Breyer referred to recent mass shootings, such as the racially motivated killings of 10 African Americans at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store, and the slaughter of 19 students and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The majority’s decision “severely burdens States’ efforts to curb gun violence,” he said.

New York governor Kathy Hochul blasted the ruling.

“It is outrageous that at a moment of national reckoning on gun violence, the Supreme Court has recklessly struck down a New York law that limits those who can carry concealed weapons,” she wrote on Twitter.