Day after mass demonstrations, senators approve “framework” on gun safety
Hundreds of rallies were planned today across the country to push for gun safety laws. | Jose Luis Magana/AP

WASHINGTON – Senate negotiators, 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, negotiated a compromise gun safety plan Sunday that includes enhanced background checks to increase the time allowed for examining the background of gun buyers under the age of 21 and extends to dating partners, for the first time ever, a prohibition on domestic abusers having guns.

The plan, which quickly got the backing of President Biden, provides funding for states that enact “red flag” laws that allow local authorities to confiscate guns from people deemed to be dangerous and funds for both mental health resources in communities and funds to bolster both safety and mental health resources in schools.

The plan falls far short, however, of the much more comprehensive steps backed by advocates of gun control, the majority of Americans, most Democrats and President Biden himself. All of those groups want to see a ban on assault weapons and universal background checks. It does not include what the House passed recently which includes not just the ban on sale of semi-automatic weapons to people under 21 but also a ban on sale of large capacity magazines and enforcement of red flag laws on the federal level.

All the groups favoring gun control, however, see the compromise plan as notable progress. Both Democrats and leaders of the movements for gun safety hailed the plan which they see as curbing gun trafficking and requiring all commercial sellers of guns to do background checks.

The plan, which is the first concrete plan that would protect at least some of the nation’s children, is seen as having a good chance of passage since it is already endorsed by 10 Republicans. If it gets solid Democratic support it would have enough votes to overcome a filibuster.

Sent in thousands

The plan was announced a day after the renewed March For Our Lives movement, started by students four years ago, sent thousands of marchers into hundreds of cities and town across the nation. The D.C. rally on June 11 drew almost 30,000 people.

More than 300 companion marches and events from coast to coast, echoed it, all with the same goal: To get Congress, and specifically the Senate’s obstructionist pro-gun Republicans, to jettison their support from the gun lobby and pass meaningful legislation to control the weapons of war that infest the U.S.

Fortified by huge delegations of teachers from both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers, speakers ranging from March for Our Lives co-founder David Hogg to Buffalo resident Garnell Whitfield to AFT President Randi Weingarten to NEA President Becky Pringle, to Dr. Martin Luther King’s granddaughter Yolanda, all called for specific actions against gun violence—and the violent.

That means, speakers said, banning assault rifles, such as the AR-15s a racist shooter used to gun down Black shoppers in Buffalo or a manic 18-year-old bought and turned on fourth-graders and their teachers in Uvalde, Texas, killing two teachers and 19 10-year-olds.

It also means enacting “an anti-white supremacy hate crime” law, said Whitfield, whose 86-year-old grandmother Ruth was one of 10 people slaughtered in a Buffalo grocery store in May. Other speakers echoed his call.

“If our government can’t do anything to stop 19 kids from being killed and slaughtered in their own school, and decapitated, it’s time to change who is in government,” said Hogg, a survivor of the Valentine’s Day 2018 massacre of 14 students and three union teachers at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School  in Parkland, Fla.

“We’re telling Congress, telling the gun lobby” and telling the country “this time is different,” said King.

“We’re here to demand justice—justice for those who have been murdered and for those who survive,” said Whitfield. His grandmother and the others were  “shot down like animals by an ignorant hate-filled white supremacist armed with an AR-15, a weapon of war.

“Enough is enough. We will not continue to be victims.”

If lawmakers don’t listen, speakers vowed, they’ll soon be out of office. And March For Our Lives has a track record to follow up on that promise: In 2018 and 2020 it turned out young people to vote in record numbers, first to eject some of the gun lobby’s rabid congressional advocates (2018), then to help elect Joe Biden to the Oval Office in 2020.

As a longtime U.S. senator, Biden was an ardent advocate of gun control.

“And if they don’t give us what we’ve asked for, we will vote them out!” declared the Rev. Denise Walden, who runs a community group in Buffalo concluded. It was a theme many other speakers seconded. So did signs in the crowd.

“I’m going to school, not war,” Giovanni Bernardi’s hand-drawn sign read.

Ban guns, not books

“Ban guns, not books!” another sign read, referring to the right-wing’s campaign to evict certain books, notably those dealing with the racist past of U.S. history, from school libraries. The same rightists who want to ban books, AFT President Randi Weingarten, a New York City civics teacher, declared, want unlimited gun rights—and to arm teachers.

The D.C. rally was enhanced by big delegations from both teachers’ unions, the Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), led by President Becky Pringle, a Philadelphia science teacher.

But it was also briefly disrupted when a screamer yelled he had a gun, during a memorial moment of silence. People ran or ducked. He was arrested—and he was unarmed.

“About six months ago, a kid brought a gun to my school, ” explained Bernardi, who attends Reservoir High School in Fulton, Md. “It was confiscated,” and the gunman was disarmed. The gun? “It was a Glock.” The kid’s age? “15 years old.”

Speakers advocated crackdowns on gun sales, raising the minimum age for semi-automatic weapons purchases from 18 to 21, and enacting waiting periods to buy guns, tighter background checks, red flag laws and protection orders, and banning bump stocks which turn an ordinary rifle into a semi-automatic, as well as banning multi-bullet magazines.

All those measures have been introduced in Congress for decades, especially since the massacre of 20 students and six teachers a decade ago at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Conn., and 14 students and three teachers on Valentine’s Day 2018 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

But they’ve gone nowhere on Capitol Hill, until the compromise plan was announced Sunday. One other demand of the marchers: Hold the NRA and the gun manufacturers responsible for the crimes, too.

“As long as gun laws don’t change, we don’t have justice,” added the Rev. Denise Walden, who runs a community group in Buffalo. “Our community is still reeling in shock” from the white racist’s murder of 10 Blacks in the supermarket there.

But it also means, speakers said, especially in D.C., not just enacting gun control laws, but enacting legislation to curb the biggest menace for mass murder: White supremacy.

“For those of you who seek to paralyze our communities through white supremacist violence and terror, I’ve got news for you: You will not win!” Hogg declared.

March For Our Lives has the credibility to back up that promise. Founded four years ago after the Parkland, Fla., massacre, the student-led movement registered so many youthful voters and mobilized them so well to the polls that prominent pro-NRA lawmakers lost their jobs that fall.

And Republican-run Florida enacted gun control legislation, with longer waiting periods for background checks, especially for buyers of semi-automatic weapons, Hogg noted.

Stop the slaughter

“We are here to demand legislation to stop the slaughter,” Whitfield added. But it’s not just a matter of taking guns out of the hands of “those ignorant individuals” who wield them.

“There are even more sicker people in high places filling them”—the gun wielders—“with hate rhetoric. We demand an anti-white supremacy hate crime bill.”

It’s also not just mass murders that are gun violence. Nor are just Republicans to blame.

“Four years ago, I woke up to gun shots and sirens,” said Trayvon Bosley, 16, a March for our Lives board member from Chicago’s South Side. “Four years later, I still wake up to gun shots and sirens. Four years ago, I buried my friends. Four years later, I still bury my friends.

“Four years ago, I heard from officials promising to do something. Four years later, we’re tired of officials like Lori Lightfoot,” Chicago’s Democratic Mayor, “promising to do something…Everyday shootings are the problem.”

“We are on the front lines of our freedom and our safety,” said AFT’s Weingarten, who has led a gun control crusade ever since the 2018 massacre in Florida.

The students who have survived such shootings “are here to make sure it never happens again. We took this on so people could worship or dance or shop without the fear of being shot, and because schools should be places of hope, not of fear.”

Said NEA’s Pringle: “The time is now to tell our legislators, if they don’t do their job, we’re coming for their jobs.”

In a well-timed reaction, the 20 Senate negotiators—ten from each party in the evenly split Senate—announced, a day after the marches, a “framework” for gun legislation. It does not go as March for our Lives wants.

“We said not one more student, not one more educator, not one more community should be ravaged by the horror of gun violence,” Weingarten said in a prepared statement.

“The standard should not be ‘Is this everything we want?’ but ‘Will this save lives?’ This bipartisan Senate framework meets the moment—and must be…signed into law as quickly as possible.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. John Wojcik es editor en jefe de People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.

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