A mass shooting incident in Atlanta on March 16 left eight people, including six Asian-American women dead. The accused gunman purchased a 9mm handgun from a local gun store just hours before he visited three of the city’s spas where the murders were committed. The Atlanta shootings have focused the nation’s attention on the disturbing 150 percent increase in hate crimes targeting Asian-Americans over the past year. Less than a week later, a gunman entered a Boulder, Colorado supermarket with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle killing 10 people, including a police officer. The firearm was purchased on March 16, just four days after a judge blocked a ban on assault rifles passed by the city of Boulder in 2018.
Every day, more than 100 Americans are killed with guns and more than 230 are shot and wounded. More than 19,000 people were killed in shootings and firearm-related incidents in 2020, almost a 25 percent jump from the year before and the highest death toll in over 20 years.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Po Murray, chairwoman of Newtown Action Alliance and Newtown Action Alliance Foundation, founded after the Dec. 14, 2012 mass murder of 20 children and 6 educators at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Here, she talks about the most recent mass shootings and the urgent need to pass federal gun violence prevention legislation.
PO MURRAY: As a Korean American myself, it was just unbelievably tragic to witness a hate crime being committed against people that look like me. And I believe that Donald Trump played a huge role in putting a target on our backs, you know, with his rhetoric regarding the coronavirus, calling it the China virus, the Wuhan virus, the Kung Flu. He set the stage for violence against Asian-Americans and women as well. It hits very close to home. There’s been violence in the black and brown communities for decades. And, you know, we’ve always said that if something so tragic can happen here in Sandy Hook in a mostly white community, that it can happen anywhere. And none of us are safe from gun violence as evidenced by another horrific mass shooting that occurred in Boulder, Colorado in a grocery store.
SCOTT HARRIS: The gunman in Atlanta reportedly purchased the 9 mm handgun used in the mass murder just hours before the shooting. I wonder if you’d tell us about the ongoing struggle to strengthen gun safety laws in states like Georgia, but more broadly across the country and at the federal level.
PO MURRAY: Sure. So we made significant progress electing Jon Osoff and Rev. (Raphael) Warnock as senators. And they will definitely contribute to possibly voting on gun control measures that we’ve been pushing for so long. Meanwhile, you know, Georgia has an opportunity to take action, but right now they’re working to suppress votes. And that’s a problem because when they suppress votes, then they will not win a majority of gun safety candidates who will pass legislation to protect their constituents. But we know that gun laws like permits to purchase and waiting periods could have prevented the mass shooting tragedy in Atlanta. The 21-year-old should not have been able to purchase a gun within hours of passing a background check though. So, the background check legislation is so important, but there are an array of policies that need to pass in addition to the universal background check that Chris Murphy has been fighting so hard for.
SCOTT HARRIS: If you could just recap for us, for our listeners — run down the most important gun safety laws that you feel Congress must pass at this moment, when we have a president that has said he will sign such legislation.
PO MURRAY: Yeah, well, there are so many important legislative proposals that need to pass. And we’re so thankful that so many members of the House and Senate are introducing and reintroducing their bills that they have presented in the past. But the two bills that have passed out of the House currently are H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446. H.R. 8 requires universal background checks requiring all gun sales to go through a background check to close the private sale loopholes and H.R. 1446 will give the FBI 10 days to complete the background check. That bill does not close the Charleston loophole completely, but Sen. Blumenthal has a bill to completely close that loophole. Basically, he says, “No background checks? Then there should be no buy.” So we support that as a stronger, legislative proposal. But, you know, we have been championing for a ban on assault weapons for all these years, for all the reasons that you and I know. A gun, a weapon that can be used to kill 20 children and 6 educators in less than 5 minutes does not belong in the hands of civilians.
And we’ve been working really closely with Rep. David Cicilline and Sen. Dianne Feinstein to pass their bill, which is the same bill I know in the House and in the Senate. During last Congress, we acquired 216 co-sponsors for the House bill. And we had silent support for the bill — should it be brought up for a vote? So we know that it would have passed the House, but even the Democrats are careful with pushing more aggressively for bills like assault weapons ban, but we know that it would have passed. And at this point in time, we’ve been urging President Biden also to take a lead on banning assault weapons again, because he did so in 1994, when it passed. Sadly, that expired after 10 years. But this new bill would not. And, you know, we’ve asked him to be a champion and work with everyone in the House and the Senate to pass this bill. It has to be part of the equation.
For more information, visit Newtown Action Alliance at newtownactionalliance.org.