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Virginia shooting: US gun control debate reignites within hours of attack

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe says there are 'too many guns on the street' in the wake of the attack

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Thursday 15 June 2017 13:54 BST

The debate over gun control in the US is once again in the spotlight following the shooting at a Congressional Republican baseball team practice after which Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said "this is not what today is about but there are too many guns on the street".

Five people were taken to the hospital after the incident in Alexandria, Virginia, including Majority Whip Steve Scalise who was shot in the hip. He is in critical but stable condition at George Washington Hospital. Two Capitol Police officers, Special Agents Krystal Griner and David Bailey, at the practice on Mr Scalise’s limited security detail were also injured – with one shot – but are in good condition.

However, despite the expressions of sympathy and admonishments over the violence, there appeared little move from either side over the potential for new legislation on a day where a man also opened fire at a United Parcel Service Inc package sorting hub in San Francisco, killing three people before turning the gun on himself.

Iowa Congressman Peter King said, while stopping by the shooting scene, that “the center of America is disappearing, and the violence is appearing in the streets, and it’s coming from the left" after it was made known that the suspected shooter was a volunteer on Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

The debate on possession of firearms has been a “perennial issue” in this country, Robert Cottroll, a professor at George Washington Law School, told The Independent, with almost as many guns in the US as people.

Mr Cottroll agrees with Mr King that the focus may need to be on Mr Hodgkinson’s potential motivations at this point. Mr Hodgkinson, who most recently lived in Illinois and worked as a home inspector, died at the hospital as a result of his injuries.

Soon after the shooting, messages of support began pouring in, and gun control advocates said that the attack highlights the need for safer streets in the US.

“Our thoughts are with those who have been shot and with their loved ones, and we commend the heroic effort by the law enforcement officers who intervened”, Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign, a Washington, DC-based gun control advocacy group, said in a statement.

“All Americans, including our elected leaders, should live in an environment where they can pursue everyday activities without fear of being shot”.

“The divisions within the country, people that can’t accept the results of the election that are determined to try to take this country down, take this organisation down,” Mr King said.

Several issues have been in legislative discussions around gun control, specifically access to weapons by those who have domestic abuse charges against them, people with diagnosed and documented mental illness, and those with criminal records.

The requirement of background checks and mandatory waiting periods between purchase and possession of a firearm vary from state to state. It is unclear at this time where Mr Hodgkinson obtained the weapon.

The FBI has also declined to confirm any information on the type of weapons used or how Mr Hodgkinson may have obtained any weapon. These pieces of information will likely play an important role in shaping how the coming debate on gun control will go, according to Mr Cottroll.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head on 8 January 2011, said in a statement that now was the time for unity in Congress and resilience in the face of such an attack.

“May all Americans come together today with prayers for the survivors ... And the courage to go about every making this country its best”.

She has often been on the opposite side of the debate than her colleague Mr Scalise, who has earned a “A+” rating from the National Rifle Association and its powerful Washington lobby.

He has also co-sponsored legislation to loosen restrictions in the District of Columbia and pushed for more recognition of permits for people to carry concealed weapons.

Ms Giffords said, however, the shooting is “an attack on all who serve and on all who participate in our democracy”.

The attempted assassination of Ms Giffords was not the only event that has re-ignited the debate in recent years. On 14 December 2012 a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

James Jacobs, Director for Center for Research in Crime and Justice at New York University Law School, told the The Independent that he does not think "there will be no federal response. Congress has ever only passed gun controls when the Democrats have controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency. At the moment, all these are held by Republicans."

Congressman Barry Loudermilk of Georgia suggested that if members of the Congressional baseball team had been armed themselves, in addition to the police bodyguards, the situation could have been resolved more quickly.

While firearms are strictly regulated on the Capitol grounds and in the rest of the District of Columbia, gun laws in Virginia are significantly less strict.

Mr Loudermilk said one of his staffers was at the scene in his car, near the shooter.

“Back in Georgia [he] carries a 9-millimeter in his car ... He had a clear shot at him. But here, we’re not allowed to carry any weapons”.

A congressional hearing was set to take place just hours after the shooting to debate gun legislation, but it has been cancelled until further notice.

The House Natural Resources Federal Lands Subcommittee was going to debate the "Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act", which if passed make it easier to transport guns across state lines, purchase silencers, and ease restrictions on armour-piercing bullets.

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