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America’s shameful tradition of gun violence reared its ugly ahead again Tuesday evening at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia.
At least six people were killed in the store, according to local officials, with four more victims in area hospitals.
This follows a shooting at the University of Virginia that left three dead less than two weeks ago, and, even more recently, a shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub that left five dead.
It’s hard not to view each incident as yet another result of America’s polarized gun debate.
Many Americans hold their right to bear arms, enshrined in the US Constitution, as sacrosanct. But others say that right threatens another: the right to life.
Each shooting seems to entrench everyone’s respective convictions.
In an all too familiar cycle, a shooting will prompt some to push for more gun control and others to lobby for less firearm regulation. A tense debate plays out before the issue fades from the national conversation.
Then another shooting occurs – and we start the cycle over again.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday again called for congressional action, but the reality of a divided Congress come January makes this unlikely.
“This year, I signed the most significant gun reform in a generation, but that is not nearly enough. We must take greater action,” the president said in a statement.
The more interesting political response to watch is Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has been touted by some as future power player in Republican politics.
“Our hearts break with the community of Chesapeake this morning. I remain in contact with law enforcement officials throughout this morning and have made available any resources as this investigation moves forward. Heinous acts of violence have no place in our communities,” Youngkin tweeted Wednesday morning.
His message closely echoes his response to the University of Virginia shooting. “I know that there’s nothing that can be said, there’s nothing that can be done in order to bring them any kind of comfort today. And so, I think this is a moment for us to come together to support them, pray for them, recognize that as a community this is a chance to come together and grieve and support them. It’s just horrific, there’s no other way to describe it,” Youngkin said at a makeshift memorial at the school.
On Thanksgiving, Youngkin also asked his state in a tweet to “lift up in prayer” the families of those killed in the mass shootings.
Missing from his responses – heartfelt as they may be – is any mention of guns.
If Youngkin is indeed the Republican Party’s future “unifier,” it doesn’t appear that will extend into gun control.
There is a direct correlation in states with weaker gun laws and higher rates of gun deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidental killings, according to a January study published by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit focused on gun violence prevention.
Yet the political debate on gun control in America often becomes untethered from the data.
Consider this: There have been at least 607 mass shootings through November 22 this year, defined as one in which at least four people are shot. That’s just short of the 638 mass shootings in the country at this point last year – the worst year on record since the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive began tracking them in 2014. There were a total of 690 mass shootings in 2021.
The United States is likely to soon surpass the total of 610 mass shootings in 2020, with more than a month left of 2022 to go.
What’s worse is the direction the data is trending. Per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the firearm homicide rate was 8.3% higher in 2021 than it was in 2020. Firearm suicide rates among people 10 years old and older also increased by 8.3% from 2020 to 2021. And the percentage of homicides attributed to firearm injuries rose from 79% in 2020 to 81% in 2021, the highest percentage in more than 50 years.
It certainly doesn’t have to be this way. Countries that have introduced laws to reduce gun-related deaths have achieved significant changes, a previous, in-depth CNN analysis found:
Australia. Less than two weeks after Australia’s worst mass shooting, the federal government implemented a new program, banning rapid-fire rifles and shotguns, and unifying gun owner licensing and registrations across the country. In the next 10 years gun deaths in Australia fell by more than 50%. A 2010 study found the government’s 1997 buyback program – part of the overall reform – led to an average drop in firearm suicide rates of 74% in the five years that followed.
South Africa. Gun-related deaths almost halved over a 10-year-period after new gun legislation, the Firearms Control Act of 2000, went into force in July 2004. The new laws made it much more difficult to obtain a firearm.
New Zealand. Gun laws were swiftly amended after the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings. Just 24 hours after the attack, in which 51 people were killed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the law would change. New Zealand’s parliament voted almost unanimously to change the country’s gun laws less than a month later, banning all military-style semi-automatic weapons.
Britain. (The country) tightened its gun laws and banned most private handgun ownership after a mass shooting in 1996, a move that saw gun deaths drop by almost a quarter over a decade.
But America’s relationship to guns is unique, and our gun culture is a global outlier. For now, the deadly cycle of violence seems destined to continue.
As a reminder, Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in June after the House and the Senate approved the measure. The package represents the most significant federal legislation to address gun violence since the expired 10-year assault weapons ban of 1994.
“God willing, it’s going to save a lot of lives,” Biden said at the White House as he signed the bill.
The package includes $750 million to help states implement and run crisis intervention programs, which can be used to manage red flag programs, as well as for other crisis intervention programs such as mental health, drug courts and veteran courts.
Red flag laws, approved by the federal measure, are also known as Extreme Risk Protection Order laws. They allow courts to temporarily seize firearms from anyone believed to be a danger to themselves or others.
The legislation encourages states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which would provide a more comprehensive background check for people between 18 and 21 who want to buy guns.
It also requires more individuals who sell guns as primary sources of income to register as Federally Licensed Firearm Dealers, which are required to administer background checks before they sell a gun to someone.
The law bars guns from anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime who has a “continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature.” The law, however, allows those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence crimes to restore their gun rights after five years if they haven’t committed other crimes.
On Thursday, Biden told reporters that he would work with Congress “to try to get rid of assault weapons.”
Pressed on whether he would try to do so during the lame duck session, he said, “I’m going to do it whenever – I’ve got to make that assessment as soon as I get in and start counting the votes.”
Congress returns next week with a jam-packed to-do list in the lame duck session, focused primarily on the must-pass government funding bill, as well as other priorities. But any action on gun legislation – particularly the assault weapons ban Biden has repeatedly called for – does not have the votes to pass. And the reality of a divided Congress in next year’s session makes it highly unlikely that anything will pass over the next two years.