Senate reaches accord on insultingly weak gun reform bill

Nicholas Stender

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Photo: Students in New York City hold a walkout to demands gun reform

A gun reform bill arrived at by a negotiating team of Democrats and Republicans has cleared several key procedural votes in the Senate and appears set for final passage by the end of the week. The bill was drafted to garner the support of at least 10 Republican senators so it could pass the artificial hurdle of the filibuster – an undemocratic internal rule of the Senate that requires 60 votes to pass most laws. The Democratic Party has repeatedly refused to end the filibuster to pass urgently needed legislation in a clear sign of their disregard for the well being of the people

The “gun reform” bill will do very little to address the crisis of violence in U.S. society. It  completely ignores the root causes of violence, fails to limit the ballooning number of semi-automatic rifles, and fails to prosecute gun manufacturers and lobbyists who profit from each mass shooting and the resulting hysteria which pushes up their profits. 

One aspect of the bill which has been highly touted is funding and administrative support for states that have set up “red flag” laws. These laws allow family members and police to petition courts to prevent individuals labeled as a dangerous threat to themselves or others from purchasing a gun. So far only 14 states have put red flag laws into effect. The bill does not mandate the creation of a national red flag flaw. Therefore the provisions in the bill would only impact states that already have red flag laws and have a limited impact. 

Despite enhancing the background check process for gun purchasers under the age of 21, the bill does not raise the age requirement to purchase a semi-automatic rifle to 21. Many of the most horrific mass shootings have been perpetrated by young men under 21. Lengthening the time for a background check to be processed will not deter someone who is determined to carry out mass murder. Background checks are still not required for individuals purchasing a gun over the internet or at gun shows. 

Straw purchasers, individuals who buy guns for those who are legally unable to do so, and gun traffickers will face harsher penalties. Notably, fascist killer Kyle Rittenhouse was able to acquire his weapon through a straw purchase – although there the state showed little interest in pursuing justice. People with a domestic violence conviction will be prohibited from owning guns. 

The bill does allocate a substantial amount of funding for mental health services, which are extremely under-resourced in the United States. Improved mental health services are desperately needed, but what is truly necessary is a universal guarantee that all students have free access to comprehensive mental healthcare. 

An expansion of mental health resources should not be accompanied with an increase in funding for police in schools. School police only serve to criminalize students and, as the tragedy in Uvalde shows, do absolutely nothing to keep children safe.

It is the gun manufacturers themselves who must be held criminally liable for the misery they produce. Publicly traded gun makers have taken home $3 billion in profit since 2020. Gun manufacturers have protected their profits by heavily funding lobbyists to bribe politicians who will in turn oppose any regulation. In 2021, the gun capitalists’ representatives in Washington spent $15,776,760 on lobbying. These corporations know that their products are killing people yet continue to push them on the population in enormous numbers to enrich their executives and shareholders. 

The Democratic Party is holding up this bill as a victory against gun violence, but its tepid and ineffective measures are designed to placate the gun industry lobbyists and Republican Senators. Democratic Party senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin continue to refuse to end or modify the filibuster rule, saying that they would not vote for any bill that didn’t have the bipartisan support necessary to pass its 60-vote threshold. In effect this has blocked almost the entirety of Biden’s domestic program. 

Instead of punishing Sinema and Manchin and fighting for a program that would truly address the problems facing the working class, Biden and the Democrats have capitulated. They would rather settle for woefully inadequate pieces of legislation like the Senate’s gun bill than do anything to undermine ruling class unity. 

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