Where Both Parties Could Work Together to Address America’s Gun Violence Epidemic
Now with the election behind us, newly elected members of Congress must find ways to work together to deliver results on behalf of an American electorate that turned out in record numbers to participate in our democracratic process. As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage throughout the American landscape and with millions of Americans still out of work, there is no shortage of challenges ahead for the 117th Congress. But one aspect that must not be overlooked is the epidemic of American gun violence that kills nearly 40,000 Americans each year.
As we are still learning the lessons from the 2020 elections, there is one thing that hasn’t really been discussed. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and their gun lobby allies were virtually a non-factor. After spending record amounts of money four years ago to elect Donald Trump and Republicans, they were sidelined in 2020 by financial and legal corruption scandals. They have become politically and culturally irrelevant and outdated, losing clout and influence across Washington — even in Republican circles.
It is time for Democrats and Republicans to move into a new reality — a new era of bipartisanship around gun violence prevention and pass policies that are overwhelmingly supported by voters of both parties. Public data supports the popularity of gun violence prevention proposals with the American public; the two confirmed Democratic flipped Senate seats replaced NRA A-rated candidates. Lawmakers would be wise to recognize that the passage of such measures — especially in a time of divided government — can be a political win for both parties.
The Biden Administration has already indicated they’ll make background checks and Extreme Risk Protection Orders a priority, but there is much more to be done to reverse this epidemic. Here are some real life-saving policies, that are based on sound public health data and equitable approaches, that the White House and Congress can take to address this gun violence prevention epidemic.
Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was first introduced by then-Senator Joe Biden and signed into law on September 13, 1994, is a critical piece of legislation to protect the lives of those experiencing domestic violence. Guns and domestic violence are a lethal combination. A woman is five times more likely to be murdered when her abuser has access to a gun. In the 116th Congress, the House of Representatives passed the VAWA Reauthorization Act, which included life saving provisions including closing the dating partner loophole, prohibiting the possession and purchase of firearms for individuals convicted of stalking and those who are subject to temporary domestic violence protective orders. Unfortunately, VAWA expired in February 2019 because partisan politics stood in the way. Keeping domestic violence victims safe from abusers with guns should not be a partisan issue. If actually brought up for a vote in the United States Senate, the reauthorization of this life-saving policy would most likely attract wide support from members of both parties.
Prevent Veteran Firearm Suicide
According to the 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, suicide amongst our nation’s veterans continues to be a public health crisis. More than two-third of these deaths are by firearm. This year, Rep. Lauren Underwood introduced H.R. 8084, the Lethal Means Safety Training Act, which would expand evidence-based lethal means safety training to staff and contractors at the Department of Veterans Affairs who are in regular contact with veterans. Eleven veterans dying from gun suicide each day is a tragedy that should not be viewed through a partisan lens. We should all work to find ways to honor and protect our heroes once they return home. Temporarily reducing access to lethal means, such as guns, for veterans who are at a high risk of suicide will help in this effort.
Invest in Ending Community Violence
American cities have seen devastating increases in community gun violence in 2020. From New York to Philadelphia to Louisville to Milwaukee, shootings and gun deaths have increased. This form of gun violence disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic/Latino individuals. They occur in cities in red and blue states, killing constituents who are represented by both Republicans and Democrats. Many of these communities are under-resourced city neighborhoods that for far too long have been ignored by elected officials. The funding and investment in violence intervention and prevention programs at the federal level could greatly reduce this community violence and spare the lives of countless Americans. Community groups in cities across the United States authentically engage in community-based violence prevention efforts and have done so for years, but many states have lagged in supporting these programs. Members of both parties could work together to provide funding and incentives for states to make serious investments in these programs at the state and local levels.
Addressing Violent Extremism
While the NRA is no longer a relevant political player, the rise of far-right citizen militias focused on insurrectionism is the result of years of NRA propaganda that encouraged the dangerous idea that violence and threats of violence are an appropriate reaction to political differences. Militia and domestic terror groups are continuing to organize, intimidate, and utilize insurrectionist and anti-democratic tactics. A Biden Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security should make addressing violent extremism one of their top priorities next year. Plots of violence against elected officials and peaceful protesters have been growing more concerning throughout the past year. But addressing the rise of armed extremism should not be left to the administration alone. Violence and the threat of violence for extreme political change should be treated exactly for what it is — a threat against our democracy. It is insurrectionism and should be rejected by our elected officials and politicians of all parties. The House and Senate should take serious action to address this rise in domestic terrorism.
We are exactly 50 days away from Inauguration Day, and only 33 days until the new Congress is officially sworn into office. Although there is much work still to be done to ensure a safer world, our future is full of the hope needed to make this possible. Together, bipartisan advocates and legislators alike can end the public health epidemic of gun violence.