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How many more Americans will be killed before Congress acts on gun safety? | Editorial

There should be no higher priority for President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans.
Crosses honoring the victims of the mass shooting in October 2017, in Las Vegas. A gunman opened fire on an outdoor music concert and killed 58 in the nation's deadliest mass shooting. [Associated Press | Gregory Bull] [Associated Press]
Crosses honoring the victims of the mass shooting in October 2017, in Las Vegas. A gunman opened fire on an outdoor music concert and killed 58 in the nation's deadliest mass shooting. [Associated Press | Gregory Bull] [Associated Press]
Published Sep. 6, 2019

Seven killed and 22 wounded last weekend between Midland and Odessa in Texas. Weeks before that, nine killed in Dayton, Ohio. Hours before that, 22 killed at a Walmart in El Paso. It was a particularly bloody August, and as Congress returns to Washington this week gun safety should be its highest priority. How many more Americans have to die in mass shootings before our federal government embraces common-sense reforms with widespread public support?

The Florida Legislature, long beholden to the National Rifle Association, acted following the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 dead. Within three weeks, state lawmakers voted for changes that included a red-flag law making it easier to take guns away from people who are a danger to themselves or others. They also raised the age to buy all guns to 21 years old. Yet Congress failed to act.

The Connecticut General Assembly acted following the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown that left 27 dead. Less than four months later, state lawmakers banned the sale of magazines holding more than 10 rounds and required universal background checks for all gun purchasers. Yet Congress rejected efforts to require those background checks and ban assault rifles.

Walmart acted last week following the August massacres, announcing it will stop selling ammunition for handguns and short-barrel rifles after it sells its current inventory. Video game signs and displays that depict violence were removed from stores following the El Paso shooting. Yet odds are long that Congress will summon the courage to act with the same conscience as the nation’s largest retailer.

By now, the key gun-safety reforms are well understood and thoroughly vetted. Here are five changes Congress should approve that would have broad support from most Americans, including many responsible gun owners:

-- Red-flag law. If the Florida Legislature can approve one, surely Congress can. Law enforcement can seek a judge’s order to take guns from persons who pose a danger to themselves or others. It already has been an effective tool for law enforcement officers in Tampa Bay and across the state.

-- Universal background checks. The so-called "gun-show loophole'' should have been closed a long time ago. While federally licensed gun sellers are required to run background checks, private sellers at gun shows and elsewhere are not. The gunman in last weekend’s shootings around Odessa and Midland used an AR 15-style rifle bought in a private purchase that did not require a background check. He had failed a background check for a gun purchase in 2014 because of a mental health issue.

-- Ban high-capacity magazines. The shooters in mass killings from Newtown in 2012 to the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016 to Las Vegas in 2017 used high-capacity magazines. There is no legal reason for ordinary citizens to have magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.

-- Ban military-style assault weapons. They have become the weapons of choice in mass shootings. Congress banned them in 1994, and the ban expired a decade later. These are weapons for war, not for hunting or recreation.

-- Raise the national legal age to buy all firearms to 21 years old. If Florida can do it, Congress can do it.

Passing meaningful gun-safety reforms is not an issue in the Democratically controlled House, which approved legislation requiring universal background checks in February. The issue is the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has long followed the wishes of the NRA. McConnell says he won’t bring any gun-safety reforms up for debate unless they have support from President Donald Trump, which is a weak excuse to do nothing. Trump has sent conflicting signals about his intentions regarding universal background checks and red-flag laws, and he has shown no interest in anything else.

The Florida Legislature passed modest gun-safety reforms last year. Walmart acted responsibly on gun safety last week. Why can’t Congress hear the pleas of most Americans and do the same?

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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