Tuesday, June 25, 2024

NC Sens. Tillis, Burr back bipartisan gun legislation enacting stricter regulations

The horrific shootings dominating last month’s headlines nationwide have activists once again demanding more gun control as lawmakers attempt to put differences aside and take action. For the first time in nearly three decades, U.S. senators could pass some form of bipartisan gun control legislation. 

The announcement comes on the heels of a mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. Mass shootings have nearly doubled since 2018, with 2021’s record-setting year for the most school shootings — 249. 

In response to recent events, the House of Representatives introduced a bill proposing to raise the age limit for buying a semi-automatic rifle and prohibiting the sale of magazines holding 15 or more rounds. While unlikely to reach bipartisan approval, the Senate has been working behind closed doors for two weeks on another approach.

Backed by 10 Republicans, including North Carolina’s Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, and 10 Democrats, a bipartisan agreement was released Sunday. The extra measures would keep guns out of the hands of potentially violent individuals. Tillis is one of four main negotiators working to hammer out details.

With the 10 GOP supporters, it’s likely the agreement would make it through the Senate — currently evenly split with 50 from each party.

Though not a full legislative document yet, the outline highlights terms both political parties would need to accept. The provisions would make it more difficult for shooters to buy guns, even though the National Institute for Justice reports 77% of those who engaged in mass shootings obtained firearms legally.

Proposals include stricter background checks on individuals under the age of 21, investing money into mental health programs and providing federal funds to states who enact “red flag” regulations. 

Red flag provisions would make it easier to temporarily take guns from people considered potentially violent. It would encourage states to enact laws so judges could deem an individual a threat to themselves or others. This would also give law enforcement the means to petition courts to stop certain individuals from buying or possessing a gun.

Current law prohibits spouses or co-parents convicted of domestic violence or subject to a domestic violence restraining order from owning guns. The bipartisan agreement would include a stipulation referred to as the “boyfriend loophole,” which would also prevent significant others with a history of violence from possessing a firearm. 

Handguns, presently, are subject to a federal law where an individual must be 21 or older to make the purchase. Eighteen-year-olds, however, can purchase a rifle, including assault rifles. 

While the proposed agreement would not raise the age requirement on purchasing a rifle, it would mandate mental and criminal records of juveniles to be included in a background check before purchasing a gun of any kind. NJI reports more than half of those who engaged in a mass shooting had criminal backgrounds and a history of violence.

Potential legislation would also require “informal” arms dealers to obtain a federal dealer’s license, which would then mandate background checks on all buyers. As it stands, unlicensed dealers, such as hobbyists or online salespeople, are not subject to background check laws.

Early discussions have suggested billions of dollars going toward expanded community mental health centers and suicide prevention programs. According to NIJ, 30% of mass shooters were suicidal prior to the shooting and the percentage rises for younger shooters. The goal is to establish a nationwide network of community behavioral health clinics.

The agreement also addresses additional funding to help institute school safety measures, school violence prevention efforts and training for school employees.

Congress aims to pass the gun control framework by the end of the month before going into a two-week recess for the July Fourth holiday. Next steps are putting the 20 senators’ agreed-upon points into a legislative draft and then up for a vote. 

The last time bipartisan gun legislation became law was in the 1990s. First, the Brady Bill created the national instant background checks system in 1993 and a year later, Congress passed a ban on assault weapons. The latter expired in 2004.

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