Shock, deep grief and resolve to enact more stringent measures at the federal level to restrict access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were among the experiences shared by congressional and state legislators following two mass shootings across the nation this weekend.
Materializing less than a week after a July 28 shooting in Gilroy that left three festivalgoers dead, reports of a Saturday shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart that killed 22 people and messages on her phone indicating another tragedy the next day in Dayton, Ohio, left nine victims dead were difficult to comprehend for U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto.
In addition to thinking that national tragedies are happening in local communities, Eshoo said she was also struck by the tragedy that the U.S. Senate had not yet taken up a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in February that would require a background check for every firearm purchased.
By closing a loophole allowing guns to be purchased without background checks online or at gun show, the bill that received input from law enforcement agencies across the country and could have saved lives, if passed, is languishing before the U.S. Senate, noted Eshoo.
She also acknowledged the effect violent language can have, adding when the president speaks, every word matters. Eshoo said the words President Donald Trump uses have called out and dehumanized different groups of people, noting white supremacists have used the same language.
“To say that it’s unsettling doesn’t begin to describe it,” she said. “All of these innocent people are the victims of it.”
Eshoo said her biggest priority in the wake of the tragedies is getting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow the U.S. Senate to vote on gun reform bills the House has passed. But she acknowledged there is always more to be done, adding she supports putting the assault weapons ban Republicans let expire in 2004 back in place.
Though U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, also supported reinstating the assault weapons ban, she challenged the president to start acting on his calls Monday to embrace love and unity and disavow domestic terrorism in the wake of the shootings. Speier invited him to work with lawmakers and come up with a bill to close the loophole on background checks, ban high-capacity magazines and allow police and family members to request a temporary firearms restriction for those who may pose a threat, otherwise know as a red flag law.
“We have got to stop being numb and start demanding action,” she said. “My challenge to him is: Actions speak louder than words.”
Noting many of the recent acts of domestic terrorism have been committed by disaffected white males between the ages of 18 and 25 with motives ranging from misogyny to racism, Speier felt officials should approach issues of domestic terrorism much like they have taken on international terrorism and give the FBI the resources it needs to investigate issues like white supremacy. Though Speier looked to House bills proposing to reinstate the assault weapons ban and restrict high-capacity magazines to help make a dent in the number of assault and high-capacity weapons in society, she emphasized the 270 million firearms in the United States are at the center of the problem.
“It’s not the violent video games, it’s not the mentally ill person,” she said. “It is the fact that we have so many guns in circulation and we have so many powerful weapons.”
State work, federal action
Though Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, acknowledged the efforts of California legislators to enhance gun safety, he emphasized in a prepared statement how much more needs to be done at the national level to address the gun violence issue. Also speaker pro tempore of the Assembly, Mullin called upon the U.S. Senate and president to act on measures passed by the U.S. House of Representatives to conduct universal background checks, limit high-capacity magazines and reinstate the assault weapons ban.
“While California has the strongest gun safety laws in the country, the recent series of tragedies highlight how inadequate our national response has been to this uniquely American crisis of easy access to weapons of war and mass gun violence,” he said. “We must all work to reduce hateful rhetoric both in the political sphere as well as in our day-to-day lives and begin healing this divided and hurting nation.”
Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, echoed the call for more to be done at the national level, noting legislators can no longer point to other issues like violent video games and talk around guns the way they have for years. Though Berman acknowledged California has been a leader in the nation in passing bans on high-capacity magazines and background checks on ammunition, Berman said state legislators will continue to push the envelope on what can be done to minimize gun violence. He hoped Assembly Bill 521, a bill Berman introduced earlier this year to help the UC Davis Firearm Violence Research Center train doctors and mental health professionals to identify and work with individuals struggling with mental health issues and counsel them about gun safety.
As part of a gun violence working group in the state Legislature, Berman pledged to continue to scour the nation for best practices on gun safety and improve the public discourse to bring community members together instead of driving them apart.
“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to make our communities safer,” he said. “But we really need substantive action at the federal level if we’re going to make serious improvements on reducing gun violence.”
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, also expressed in a prepared statement deep regret the issue of mass killings has gone on for so long, noting no civilized society should allow the tools of mass shootings to be so readily available. Until the rest of the country bans assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as California does, Hill did not believe anyone can feel safe.
“As Californians, we know all too well the devastation and tragedy of gun violence,” he said. “We grieve the senseless losses of life, the destruction of families and the appalling frequency of the deadly attacks across our country that have become part of our collective experience.”
Turning grief into action
Though Eshoo said she has received many calls from friends and constituents worried there is nothing they can do about these tragedies, she said she’ll continue to tell people everyone has a responsibility to do something. She acknowledged she has a heavy responsibility as well, but emphasized the importance of Americans from every community in the nation speaking up and asking their senators to take up the bills that come their way.
“We want to save lives, we want safer communities, that’s what these bills will do,” she said. “But they need to become law … We need to turn our grief into action and I think that we’re capable of that.”
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Note to readers: This article has been amended. The story previously stated Assemblyman Marc Berman's Assembly Bill 521 established the UC Davis Firearm Violence Research Center, and has since been changed to show AB 521 would help the center create gun violence prevention training programs for doctors and mental health professionals.