The Senate probed research showing a correlation between relaxed gun laws and gun violence, but, for minority groups and victims of domestic abuse, the equation is not that simple.
WASHINGTON (CN) — Shortly after the slaying of eight people, six of them Asian women, in Atlanta last Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing on gun violence in America.
By the following Tuesday, as that hearing got underway, the United States had endured seven mass shootings in seven days, the last of which left 10 dead at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, not 24 hours earlier.
Committee Chairman Dick Durbin noted that such incidents have become so frequent, he can no longer stay up to date on them, let alone recount them all before the Senate. “I can’t change … my opening statement to keep up with it,” he said.
The committee gathered a panel of witnesses to discuss how the country should respond to the latest shootings. The witnesses ranged from trauma specialists to former legislators to the champion sport shooter from a History Channel show.
Throughout their testimonials was a recurrent theme: Where there are more guns, there’s more gun violence.
Senator Dianne Feinstein recalled a bill she proposed in the 1990s, when the committee was headed by now-President Joe Biden. In 1994, Congress passed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protect Act, banning military-style firearms and assault weapons across the country.
She cited a 2016 study that showed gun massacres fell by 37% between 1994 and 2004, while deaths by gun massacres fell by 43%. After the law expired in 2004, however, gun massacres increased by 183%, deaths by gun massacres by 239%.
“Why do you believe we so often see assault weapons used in mass shootings?” she asked. “What do you think we should do about it?”
Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, argued just that while answering questions from Senator Mazie Hirono.
“States with the strongest gun laws have the lowest gun death rates,” she said, “and states with the weakest gun laws have some of the highest gun death rates in the country.” Thomas also noted that 80% of guns used in crime were acquired without a background check.
For others, though, gun-control laws create an access issue that tends to exclude people from minority communities. Geneva Solomon, director of internal communications for the National African American Gun Association, reflected on how she bought a gun to escape an abusive relationship. She described the 10-day wait as “terrifying.”
Chris Cheng, an Asian-American sport shooter and the Season 4 champion of "Top Shot," referenced the Los Angeles riots in 1992 as a prime example of Asian-American communities protecting themselves when law enforcement failed to show up.
He also likened the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which requires a background check for all private firearm purchases, to past anti-Asian legislation like Executive Order 9066, which sent Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II.
“Neither the Chinese Exclusion Act nor the executive order was genuinely successful in increasing domestic safety,” he said. “Neither will the gun control legislation under consideration.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Selwyn Rogers, a trauma specialist, noted that gun violence affects Black and brown communities at a disproportionate rate.
Rogers, who is himself Black, noted that “57% of gun homicide victims are Black."
“We must understand this violence as a public health crisis,” the surgeon continued, “and address it with the same urgency as Covid-19.”
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