Glimmer of hope: On gun ownership reform in the U.S.

Transcending partisan stalemate for the first time in several generations, the U.S. Congress has passed, and President Joe Biden signed into law, a gun regulation bill to place several important constraints on the proliferation of firearms across the country. The bipartisan gun reform law, titled the Bipartisan Safer Communities (BSC) Act, was passed earlier in the Senate, with a final vote of 65 to 33 including 15 Republicans who joined Democrats in support of the measure, and then at the House of Representatives, by a margin of by 234-193 votes, with 14 Republicans crossing the aisle to vote. While the bill goes a considerable distance in reining in the relatively unhindered sale of firearms across weapons buyer profiles, it falls far short of the critical regulations that Democrats have been pressing for. The law also comes into force shortly on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a New York law limiting concealed carrying of guns. Nevertheless, the bipartisan character of the bill reflects the best hope for a gradual and marginal shift in the public discourse on gun ownership and its right guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The fact that such a bill passed both houses of Congress and reached Mr. Biden’s desk also reflects the deep shock that the nation experienced in the recent acts of gun violence in a school in Texas, and at a New York store.

Therein lies the limited scope of the bipartisan gun reform law — it does nothing to address the question of limiting the availability of this weapon, nor does it yield any quarter to the long-standing demand by Democrats to institute universal background checks for those buying the firearms. Within its core ambit the law does mandate expanded background checks, including state and local juvenile and mental health records of gun purchasers aged 18 to 20 years; closing of the “boyfriend loophole” by denying gun ownership to convicted domestic violence offenders under certain conditions; ‘red flag laws’ that will grant federal funds to States with laws enabling removal of guns from persons deemed dangerous; and sets aside nearly $13 billion for education and advocacy towards improving mental health in schools, crisis intervention, violence prevention programmes, mental health worker training and school safety. However, the law does not hint at reviving the assault weapons ban of 1994, which expired a decade later, since which time this category of weapon has become the most frequently used in lethal mass shootings. While the BSC Act is a welcome step in the right direction, the U.S. has a long road ahead and complex questions to resolve regarding its obsession with unrestricted gun ownership before mass shootings in public places stop occurring.

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Printable version | Jun 29, 2022 2:05:24 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/glimmer-of-hope-the-hindu-editorial-on-gun-ownership-reform-in-the-us/article65576052.ece