Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee staged yet another defence of guns and gun owners at a hearing on Tuesday, falsely accusing their Democratic counterparts of trying to take away guns from “law-abiding citizens” in the wake of two mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, over the last week.
“Every time there is a shooting, we play this ridiculous theatre where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” Senator Ted Cruz said at Tuesday’s hearing.
“What happens in this committee after every mass shooting is Democrats propose taking away guns from law-abiding citizens because that’s their political objective,” Mr Cruz said.
While some Democrats have offered bills that would require universal background checks, prevent those on the terror watch list from acquiring weapons, ban the future sale of assault weapons, and block the sales of bump stock devices that effectively convert semiautomatic rifles into automatic rifles, very few Senate Democrats have proposed legislation that would forcefully take certain guns away from law-abiding citizens.
On the presidential campaign trail in 2019, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Vice President Kamala Harris (then a California senator) endorsed a mandatory buyback programme on certain military-grade weapons.
“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore,” Mr O’Rourke said after a shooting in El Paso, Texas, that year.
Mr O’Rourke stated unequivocally that he would want to force Americans to sell back their gun “if it’s a weapon designed to kill people on a battlefield, if the high-impact, high-velocity round, when it hits your body, shreds everything inside of your body because it was designed to do that so you would bleed to death on a battlefield and not be able to get up and kill one of our soldiers.”
Most other Democratic lawmakers have sought to re-institute the assault weapons ban that Congress let lapse in 2004, but they do not support the mandatory assault weapons buyback programme.
Mr Cruz’s comments on Tuesday encapsulated the gun control debate in Congress over roughly the last decade: A mass shooting occurs, Democrats call for sweeping action to restrict access to weapons, and Republicans accuse them of politicising a tragedy and overstepping with unrealistic legislation.
“We ought to keep this in perspective,” GOP Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said on Tuesday.
“I’m not trying to perfectly equate these two, but we have a lot of drunk drivers in America that kill a lot of people. We ought to try to combat that too. ... The answer is not to get rid of all sober drivers,” he said.
But the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary panel, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, suggested earlier in the hearings such defensive comments from Republicans do not accurately represent Democratic views on guns.
Mr Durbin urged his colleagues to approach the gun violence epidemic much the same as they have approached the opioid epidemic: passing laws to mitigate abuse while allowing legitimate uses to continue.
“We’re not going to agree on every proposal, but if we share a commitment to reduce gun deaths, some proposal will work,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer vowed earlier on Tuesday to bring House-passed gun control bills to the floor for debate and a vote, forcing his GOP colleagues to go on the record with their stance on the legislation.
“The Senate is going to debate and address the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” Mr Schumer, a New York Democrat, said.
Neither of the two gun control bills that passed the House earlier this month include any provisions taking guns away from current law-abiding owners.
The suspect in Monday’s Boulder grocery store shooting was apprehended and has been charged with 10 counts of murder. Eyewitnesses described a male gunman in tactical gear opening fire in silence on terrified shoppers.
The Atlanta spa shooter killed eight people, including six Asian American women, highlighting the rise in violence against Asian Americans over the last year.
Joe Biden was planning to address the nation in the wake of the Boulder shooting on Tuesday.
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