There is a glimmer of hope for stronger federal laws to reduce gun violence, but many states are working actively against it. That puts everyone in every state in greater peril.
Organizations working to reduce gun violence are optimistic about getting a bill requiring universal background checks on gun sales through Congress this session. The bill, reintroduced on March 2, would expand background checks to cover private sales at gun shows and over the internet.
Among the leading backers of the bill, which is hardly controversial among the vast majority of Americans, are U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill.
“People support background checks for gun sales by an overwhelming margin — more than 90% in some surveys,” said Durbin, who co-sponsored the Senate version of the bill, titled the Background Check Expansion Act, as well as a related bill, titled the Background Check Completion Act. “We’ve seen where lax laws in other states contribute to the flood of guns on the streets of Chicago, with police officers recovering nearly 900 guns in January alone.”
Penalizing the police
But in more than a dozen states, lawmakers have introduced legislation to nullify new federal laws designed to reduce gun violence. Some state bills would even penalize police officers and others who work with federal law enforcement or dare to enforce the federal laws.
That’s a problem for every state, given how guns later connected to crimes flow across borders. In Illinois, 60% of guns that turn up at crime scenes are traced to sources outside the state.
Lawmakers in Illinois are trying to close loopholes in Illinois laws, as they should. Bills to do so have been reintroduced in the Illinois House and Senate. But Illinois can’t control the actions of lawmakers in other states.
Last year, gun violence increased by 52% in Chicago, and 65% more women were killed in acts of gun violence. Domestic violence increased by 16% in Illinois, and the risk of homicide in domestic violence incidents is five times higher when a gun is present. Nationwide, more guns were sold last year than ever before, and Illinois led the pack, as measured by federal firearms background checks, with more than twice as many as the second most state, Kentucky. Illinois continued to lead the nation through Feb. 28 this year.
A record number of people in the United States — at least 19,223 — were killed by guns in 2020.
“We’re trending in the wrong direction,” said Kathleen Sances, president and CEO of the Illinois Gun Violence Prevention PAC.
According to the Associated Press, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wyoming, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, Iowa and Utah are considering gun nullification laws. Texas Greg Abbott has called for his state to become a Second Amendment “sanctuary.”
Attempts by states to overturn federal gun laws probably would fail in court because of the Supremacy Clause, which holds that the U.S. Constitution, and federal laws in general, take precedence over state laws and even state constitutions. But what is particularly egregious about the bills now under consideration in state legislatures is the penalties they would impose on police officers and others who comply with the federal laws.
Gun shop owners who run a background check as they ring up a gun sale, for example, could be held civilly or even criminally liable by their states. Police officers who enforce the federal ban on felons carrying guns also could face civil penalties or criminal charges. The laws would have a chilling effect on the enforcement of federal gun laws.
State laws nullifying federal gun regulations have been introduced in various states in the past, but such efforts had died down in the past four years. Now, with a Democratic president and Congress, there is a renewed push by Republican-led state legislatures to get those laws on the books.
Gun violence is a scourge in America. Irresponsible neighbors make the problem all the more deadly.
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