US impeachment investigation stalls gun reforms

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, October 15, 2019
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College student Jennifer Estrada takes part in a rally for gun control and anti-racism, in El Paso, Texas, the United States, Aug. 7, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

Only a few weeks ago, gun reform legislation was forefront in the U.S. Congress, the White House, and public opinion. Several high-profile mass shootings had occurred in rapid succession during August and September, shocking the country and prompting calls for tighter gun control.

There were signs that gun reform legislation would finally be addressed by Congress and the President Donald Trump's administration by passing laws requiring stricter background checks on all commercial gun sales. However, the Ukraine whistleblower story started to change the scenario.

On Sept. 24, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the initiation of a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump over the latter's controversial phone call with the Ukrainian president.

Expectations of gun reform advocates were high in the aftermath of the recent mass shootings, but as Po Murray, chairwoman of the Newtown Action Alliance, told Xinhua that "in light of the impeachment inquiry, it looks like the end of that."

The Newtown Action Alliance is a national grassroots all-volunteer organization that originated in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that occurred on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six educators were senselessly gunned down.

Murray told Xinhua, "The Newtown Action Alliance was formed as an unapologetic and authentic voice to create a cultural shift and legislative changes after my neighbor killed 20 children and six educators."

Fear of additional mass shootings gripped the country. In polling, six in ten Americans worried about a mass shooting in their community and felt that stricter gun laws would make them safer.

Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, a former congressional representative from El Paso, Texas where one of the worst mass shootings took place in August, announced from a debate stage, "Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47 (referring to two military assault-style weapons commonly used in mass shootings). We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore."

In September, the CEOs of 145 U.S. companies sent a letter to the Senate stating that the current situation was "unacceptable" and urged them to pass universal background checks, as well as extreme risk protection order (ERPO) statutes.

Despite public support for many of the alliance's initiatives, Murray sees little probability of meaningful gun reform in the current climate.

"Over 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks and 67 percent support a ban on assault weapons, so the American people are with us. We've always felt that there is a sense of urgency, but we don't see any legislation passing in this Congress."

Many gun reform activists are seeing more success on the state level and are pushing laws that are specific to their local problems.

In the state of New Mexico, where gang-related gun violence and spousal abuse are particular issues, the group New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence worked for five years to restrict gun ownership of domestic abusers. Currently, they are working on passing a law that would take guns away from people with two or more violent misdemeanor convictions.

As a non-partisan organization, the mission of the group is to reduce firearm injury and death through public health, education, advocacy, and public awareness, in order to protect the safety of families and communities.

Miranda Viscoli, co-president of the group, told Xinhua, "We have repeatedly failed a whole generation of youth. There's a reason why they're going to gangs."

The organization has tackled gun violence with programs that don't require legislative actions. Viscoli said, "Critics of gun buy-back programs say that it only brings in old hunting rifles and that it doesn't reduce the more lethal weapons on the street, but we're seeing that about 30 percent of guns brought in are semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles."

Meaningful gun reform legislation has always had a great deal of opposition from U.S. gun enthusiasts, but prospects now have fallen apart with Washington's attention focused on the impeachment investigation.

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