House Democrats Push For Federal Gun Reform Following Surgeon General Advisory

Lia Chien, Louisiana Illuminator

Democratic U.S. House members pushed for legislative action to address gun violence Wednesday, the day after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared the issue a public health crisis.

Murthy released a 40-page advisory Tuesday. It called gun violence the leading cause of death for children and adolescents, causing just over 4,600 deaths in 2022. More than 48,000 Americans died from gun violence in 2022, an increase of 16,000 from 2010, according to the report.

The report counted mass shootings, suicides by firearm and firearm injuries. According to the advisory, 79% of U.S. adults experience stress from the possibility of a mass shooting and youth are over 20% more likely to use antidepressants following exposure to fatal school shootings.

The advisory came after a weekend of mass shootings in Alabama, Ohio, and Arkansas.

Rep. Maxwell Frost, a Democrat from Florida, hosted a press conference to applaud the surgeon general and urged his House colleagues to pursue more gun reforms.

“This declaration is a significant step forward in the fight to protect our communities and our children because it’s a holistic thing,” he said. “It looks at ending gun violence in many different ways.”

Frost, the youngest member of Congress and former March for Our Lives national organizing director, listed ideas to address gun violence in the advisory.

That list included regulations to keep guns out of “the wrong hands” through measures such as universal background checks.

The government could also support community violence intervention, such as programs in high-risk communities designed to deter gun violence and help those affected.

Finally, and “one of the most important,” said Frost, is “creating a society where people don’t feel the need to use guns to solve their problems in the first place.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California, urged her congressional colleagues to use the “renewed sense of urgency” created by the report to require universal background checks and safe storage of firearms.

“Just basics,” she said.

Frost and Lee were joined by Dr. Joseph Sakran, an anti-gun activist and trauma surgeon and associate director of emergency general surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, a city plagued by gun violence.

He called the advisory “a historic step” that will “empower policymakers and push them to develop programs and policies that will impact not just cities but the entire country.”

He also referenced upcoming elections that he said would determine what gun reform measures could pass.

Red flag bill

In a separate press conference Wednesday, Democratic Reps. Mike Thompson and Salud Carbajal of California, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Joe Neguse of Colorado and Robin Kelly of Illinois announced they would file a measure to force a floor vote on a bill McBath introduced.

The bill would allow federal courts to issue risk protection orders. It would allow police or family members to ask a court for a temporary order, preventing people at risk of harming themselves or others from possessing or purchasing firearms.

According to Everytown, a gun safety advocacy group, 21 states have adopted similar laws. Research has shown they reduce firearm suicides and stop mass shootings, according to studies in Indiana, Connecticut and California.

In 2022, Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Community Safety Act. The legislation provided funding and support for states with red flag laws to ensure they are “constitutionally implemented,” according to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

Thompson, the chair of the House Democrats’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, said McBath’s bill would help complement the 2022 law.

“Congresswoman McBath’s bill will ensure that the work that we did in that legislation and the money that we’re able to secure can be better spent across all 50 states and save lives,” he said.

Thompson said a discharge petition, a procedural tool to force a floor vote, is the only way to bring the bill to the House floor because House Republican leadership opposes gun control legislation.

Republican opposition

Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, has not been in favor of gun control legislation and told Fox News last year he doesn’t see gun laws as being effective.

McBath told reporters Wednesday she hopes rank-and-file Republicans buck their party leaders on the bill. She said that in private conversations, many Republicans have agreed with her that Congress should pass gun reform.

“I think they’re just afraid to stand on the other side of their Republican colleagues,” McBath said. “But I think deep down they know that they have constituents that are dying unnecessarily.”

Neguse, the assistant Democratic leader, echoed McBath’s concerns over Republican inaction and urged Republican colleagues to support McBath’s bill.

“Talk is cheap,” Neguse said. “There’s an opportunity for so-called moderate Republicans in the House Republican Conference to prove that they support these red flag laws. They can do so by simply walking onto the floor and signing the discharge petition.”

Frost, in the opposite press conference, also shared his Democratic colleagues’ belief that Republicans will help pass gun reform laws. He referred to the surgeon general’s advisory, and urged listeners to use the statistics to support their cause.

“If we focus on the science and the data of this, I think there are some hearts and minds we can change on the Republican side to actually get things like universal background checks passed,” he said.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and X.

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