Boulder. Aurora. Columbine.
These were just a few of Colorado’s mass shootings that Congress members referenced during Thursday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing on a package of gun policies the chamber is expected to vote on next week.
Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse said the bill makes “common sense changes for gun laws that will save lives.”
The Protecting Our Children Act includes a number of measures intended to tighten the rules on gun ownership, such as raising the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle from 18 to 21, regulating ghost guns, requiring safe storage, cracking down on illegal gun trafficking and straw purchases, and banning bump stocks and large capacity magazines.
“From Sandy Hook to Uvalde, far too many communities have been plagued by the scourge of gun violence. As policy makers we have the opportunity today to do our part in stopping this violence,” Neguse said. “Because Boulder can’t wait any longer. Colorado can’t wait any longer and our country certainly can’t wait any longer.”
But many Republicans argued the legislation was rushed and potentially unconstitutional. They noted that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down a California law that prohibited the sale of semiautomatic weapons to anyone under 21. The majority decision came from two Trump appointees, with the panel’s one Clinton appointee dissenting.
Ranking Republican Jim Jordan called the federal bill “political theater.”
“Democrats cobbled together a package of measures. This is not a real attempt, in my judgment, to find solutions,” Jordan said. “The bill won’t make our schools safer. It will hamper the rights of law-abiding citizens and it will do nothing to stop mass shootings.”
But Democrats argued Congress has taken too long to act.
“You say it’s too soon to take action, that we are politicizing these tragedies to enact new policies? It has been 23 years since Columbine, 15 years since Virginia Tech, 10 years since Sandy Hook,” Chairman Jerry Nadler said, listing even more mass shootings. “Too soon? My friends, what the hell are you waiting for?”
GOP Rep. Ken Buck, a former federal prosecutor, said he was part of a group that went into Columbine after the infamous attack in 1999. “One thing I’ve learned from law enforcement, and one thing I’ve learned from being involved in these particular shootings and also observing what’s happening in our country – these laws will not help the situation.”
Buck said he would not support the gun control package. Like other Republicans, he argued none of the measures “would have prevented what happened” in the most recent mass shootings.
“We have a serious problem involving family, involving drugs, involving mental health. We have gone in the wrong direction in the last 40 or 50 years.” Buck said. “Blaming the gun for what’s happening in America is small-minded.”
The Eastern Plains representative noted the AR-15 is the “gun of choice for killing raccoons before they get to our chickens. It is a gun of choice for killing a fox. It is a gun that you control predators on your ranch, on your farm, on your property."
Instead, Buck said he’d entertain ideas such as hardening schools and rolling back the ability to declare them gun-free zones. He also called for hearings to come up with “answers that are meaningful,” something he said Republicans would do should they take the majority in November.
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