In the wake of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, there was much talk about gun control laws and ways to curb the all-too-familiar headlines of mass shootings. The topic has recently found its way back to the national stage.
Last week, President Obama handed over his weekly address to Francine Wheeler, mother of 6-year-old Benjamin Wheeler who was one of the victims in the shooting. Many families of Sandy Hook victims have been working in Washington with their representatives in Congress to push for increased legislation and attention to the issue.
It has taken far too long, but it looks like there might actually be some movement regarding the gun control issue in the following days and weeks. With the presence of Sandy Hook families on Capitol Hill, many of the Republican Senators who were initially expected to filibuster a potential bill regarding guns conceded to let the debate take place. The families watched as 68 Senators, including 16 Republicans, voted Thursday to let the debate proceed.
Hopefully this will break the phenomenon many policymakers refer to as the “issue-attention cycle.” This is the idea that there is always a swell in the news coverage and outrage regarding the gun control public policy failure after a traumatic event, but after a short while, attention wanes.
The legislation being proposed is not strong enough, but at least it is a start. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, are the ones spear-heading the effort. Their bill calls for increased background checks for private sales made at gun shows and over the Internet.
The bill also has provisions to create harsher penalties for the so-called straw purchasing of guns, in which people buy firearms for those who are not eligible. Noncommercial, person-to-person sales, however, would still be exempt.
Subsequent amendments, specifically dealing with mental health and the banning of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, are expected in these days ahead before the vote on the overall legislation. While the 80 percent of Americans supporting increased background checks might help sway Congress to pass certain provisions, the National Rifle Association gun lobby will almost ensure bans on assault weapons and magazines do not succeed.
As of right now, the increased background checks remains to be the centerpiece of the gun control bill. Let us hope, if nothing else, at least this measure passes. It might not be the sweeping assault weapons and high-capacity magazine ban many Americans want to see, but it is a step in the right direction. Further reforms could—and should—be made in the future.
Of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, six of them have taken place since 2007. It is disheartening that, despite these statistics, very little has actually been done on the legislative level to address this clear need for improved regulations to prevent these horrible events from happening time and time again. Maybe this time Congress will break the cycle.