Members of the U.S. Senate over the weekend reached an agreement on the outline of legislation that, if passed, would represent the first significant gun control bill enacted into law in several decades.
A group of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans announced the deal on Sunday. This could prove a sufficient level of support — at least 60 votes — to defeat the threat of a filibuster in the Senate. In the U.S. House of Representatives, an affirmative vote by a simple majority would be enough to pass the bill.
Officials have for years scrambled to implement measures to reduce gun violence. But sharp differences between Democrats and Republicans on the effectiveness and constitutionality of proposed bills have prevented progress on the federal level.
Efforts to address the violence were accelerated following mass shootings last month at a Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo and a school in Uvalde, Texas. However, proponents encountered the same resistance.
So reaching a tentative agreement among senators on a measure geared towart reducing gun violence is something of a miracle. It still has a long way to go to pass both chambers of Congress and reach President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s desk for his signature, but it’s cleared its first major hurdle.
“The agreement, put forth by 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats and endorsed by President Biden and top Democrats, includes enhanced background checks to give authorities time to check the juvenile and mental health records of any prospective gun buyer under the age of 21 and a provision that would, for the first time, extend to dating partners a prohibition on domestic abusers having guns,” according to a story published Sunday by The New York Times. “It would also provide funding for states to enact so-called red flag laws that allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed to be dangerous as well as money for mental health resources and to bolster safety and mental health services at schools.”
Some parts of this measure are worth enacting; others may prove to be troublesome and ineffective. For many progressives, the plan doesn’t go nearly far enough. And for many conservatives, it’s extreme and unconstitutional.
Some mental health advocates in New York state expressed concerns over the proposed measure. They’re worried its provisions could prevent people from seeking the help they need and intrude on individuals’s privacy.
“Mental health advocates in New York do not want a final agreement on measures meant to curb gun violence across the country to stigmatize vulnerable people and cast a broad net by blaming mental illness for the spate of mass shootings in the last several weeks,” a Spectrum News 1 article published Monday reported. “A tentative agreement between a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. Senate is meant to boost funding for mental health programs in schools as well as provide grants to incentivize states to implement red flag laws, which are meant to keep guns away from people deemed to be too dangerous to themselves or others. In New York, lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul recently signed off [on] an agreement that is meant to expand the state’s red flag law to include more people who can file petitions for extreme risk protection orders. The package of measures also included licensing requirements for semi-automatic rifles, raising the age to  to possess one.
“The legislation came after mass shootings at a Buffalo supermarket and an elementary school in Texas, spurring calls to once again tighten restrictions on gun possession in the country,” according to the story. “But at the same time, mental health advocates have argued the violence is not caused due to people living with a mental illness. The Coalition for Smart Safety, a mental health advocacy consortium, urged the national extreme risk protection orders not impact a broad range of people.”
We share this concern over people being stigmatized due to mental health issues they have. It would be tragic if the public conversation about one cause of gun violence thwarted invidivuals from coming forward and receiving the treatment they require.
And we agree with experts that most mass shooters don’t have major mental health illnesses such schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. There is strong evidence showing that people who suffer from these conditions are far more likely to hurt themselves rather than others. So we need to avoid throwing roadblocks in their way of getting help.
However, this doesn’t mean that mass shooters don’t have emotional problems. It’s not a persuasive argument that say that people who would willingly murder numerous individuals as quickly as possible are mentally stable. Something’s obviously wrong, and the provisions called for in the proposed Senate plan may prevent some mass shootings from occurring.
We’ll need to see the specific items outlined in a formal plan before endorsing or opposing any legislation. It’s too early in the process to determine whether such a bill would work.
But at least legislators on Capitol Hill are discussing a proposal in a civil manner rather than screaming at one another, and that indeed is progress. Given the increasingly partisan division we’ve endured over the past few years, seeing them negotiate and compromise is commendable. Let’s hope they come up with some ideas that would accomplish the goal of reducing these horrific events.