Gun control returned as a leading topic over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with Joe Biden and other prominent Democrats issuing fresh calls for a ban on assault weapons for the general public.
At the same time, questions were raised about the funding of law enforcement agencies in places that refuse to enforce so-called red flag laws, after shooting tragedies in Virginia and Colorado in the last two weeks.
“If you passed an assault weapons ban you would see less mass shootings in this country,” Connecticut’s Democratic US Senator and leading gun control advocate, Chris Murphy, said on Sunday.
He added: “You are not going to magically eliminate mass-shootings, but an AR-15, or AR-15 style weapon, is generally the choice of mass shooters.”
Such a military-style rifle was used in the shooting at an LGBTQ night club in Colorado last weekend, although different firearms were used in the shootings of University of Virginia football team players earlier in the month and at a Walmart store, also in Virginia, two days before Thanksgiving, in a tragic spate of violence.
The Democrat lawmaker pointed to a “dramatic decline” in mass-shootings after the decade-long assault weapons ban passed in 1994. “It wasn’t until the expiration date of the ban that we started to see mass shootings spiral up”.
With Biden returning to the White House on Sunday afternoon after spending the Thanksgiving break with his family in Nantucket, the gun issue returned to prominence.
On Thursday’s Thanksgiving day itself, Biden spoke about the “scourge” of gun violence, saying he wants to sign into law a ban on high-powered guns that have the capacity to kill many people quickly.
“The idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick. Just sick,” Biden said. “I’m going to try to get rid of assault weapons.”
The Democratic-led House passed legislation in July to revive the 1990s-era ban on assault weapons, following the passage of a landmark bipartisan bill on guns, strengthening background checks and red flag laws, which allow authorities to remove firearms from those posing a danger.
But the legislation is going nowhere in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes to pass and Democrats lack Republican support.
House majority whip Jim Clyburn admitted that an assault weapons ban and other gun restrictions would not get through Congress, even in the lame duck session while Democrats still control the House, but that did not mean it was not worth pursuing.
“Just because it’s legal [to buy a gun] doesn’t mean it’s the right thing. Slavery was legal but it was not right,” he said.
Murphy, who has been the Senate’s leading advocate for stronger gun control since at a school in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, also told CNN on Sunday that one avenue Democrats might pursue is to restrict federal funding for law enforcement in counties that declare themselves gun sanctuaries.
“We learned in Colorado that the county in which the shooting happened was a so-called second amendment sanctuary state,” Murphy said. “The majority of counties in this country have declared that they’re not going enforce state and federal gun laws.”
“It’s a growing problem in the country and we’re going to have to have a conversation about that in the Senate. Do we want to to continue to supply funding to law enforcement in counties that refuse to implement state and federal gun laws?”
Red flag laws, Murphy added, had proved wildly popular across the county but “we have to do something” about the refusal by 60% of counties to enforce gun control laws.
On NBC, Kentucky Republican congressman James Comer said in respect of any additional gun regulations: “We already have many gun laws on the books … the number one priority with respect to crime in America for Republicans is going to be the fentanyl crisis” with respect to the traffic in illicit drugs across the US-Mexico border.
NBC’s Meet the Press host, Chuck Todd, noted to Comer that “the states that have the most gun [control] laws have the least amount of per capita gun crime, and the states with the least amount of gun laws seem to have the most ... so there is a correlation here, if you have more gun-related laws on the books as a state you have … fewer gun-related deaths. That’s been proven statistically.”
Comer responded that in rural America most households had guns and “there aren’t a lot of crimes” because criminals know people are armed.