Universal background checks for gun buyers a modest step, but Republicans still reject it | Opinion

Andres Oppenheimer
·4 min read

The latest mass shooting at the FedEx facility in Indianapolis makes me wonder once again who is crazier: the gunmen who carry out these murders or the millions of Americans who vote for politicians who oppose laws that could prevent these tragedies.

I say the voters are, if nothing else, guiltier, because they should know better.

They should at the very least stop voting for legislators who oppose something as simple as universal background checks for gun buyers.

Shamefully, Republicans in the U.S. Senate are blocking a recently passed House bill that would require stricter background checks. That’s despite the fact that 84 percent of U.S. voters support requiring all gun purchasers to go through a background check, according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll released in March.

The mass shooting that left eight dead and at least seven wounded in Indianapolis was the 45th mass shooting during the past month, according to a CNN count.

In the first three months of this year, there have been more than 4,500 gun deaths, more than 8,100 gun injuries and at least 147 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonpartisan research group — which defines “mass shooting” as an incident with a minimum of four gunshot victims.

If you think this is a chronic problem that remained unchanged over the years, you’re wrong: It’s getting much worse. More than 19,000 people died in gun homicides last year, a record in the past two decades and up by almost 25 percent from the previous year, the Gun Violence Archive says.

President Biden announced earlier this month several executive actions to combat what he called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment” of gun violence in America. But the measures he announced were modest compared with his campaign promises to ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and impose stricter background checks for gun buyers.

Granted, Biden is a huge improvement over President Trump, who went out of his way to please gun-industry lobbyists and fought any safety measure that would help stop mass killings.

But Biden’s current priority — in addition to combating the COVID-19 pandemic — is to pass his $2 trillion infrastructure bill in Congress, and he has suggested that it’s not wise to fight too many legislative battles at once.

On Friday, the day after the Indianapolis shooting, Biden pledged to “do more” to reduce gun violence. Administration officials are urging voters to press Republican senators to support the legislation for universal background checks that was approved by the Democratic-controlled House in March.

According to the Morning Consult/Politico poll, the 84 percent of Americans who support stricter background checks include 91 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans.

Ideally, Congress should do much more than that, and pass laws to prohibit semi-automatic weapons.

The gun lobby’s argument that such laws would go against the Constitution’s Second Amendment is ridiculous.

The Constitution says Americans have the right to bear arms, but it doesn’t say they have the right to buy a grenade, or a nuclear weapon. The Constitution also protects your right to free speech, but doesn’t give you a blank check to libel.

But Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a senior adviser for the Giffords gun safety advocacy group and former Florida congresswoman, told me that the first priority to reduce mass shootings should be getting the Senate to pass the pending background-checks bill.

“Although the gun lobby has tried to politicize it, this is something that’s supported by Democrats, Independents and Republicans alike,” she said. “It’s something that unites everybody.”

Mucarsel-Powell, whose father was shot and killed when she was a child in her native Ecuador, added that, “We can’t accept the Senate’s lack of courage to act. We can’t keep waking up every morning with news of another mass shooting.”

She may be right. After so many years of congressional failures to pass substantive gun-safety laws, it may be time to focus on a modest, but doable, goal.

And if Republican senators block it, Americans should remember their names and kick them out of Congress. Let’s begin with something as simple as universal background checks — and start reducing the bloodshed.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera