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Sign reading "I don't want to die" at gun control protest

Students take part in a rally to demand gun control on April 20, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Jim Young/Getty Images)

Far-Too-Weak Senate Gun Control Bill Slammed as 'Crumbs'

"NOW is the time to end the filibuster and save the lives of our students, our community members, and our fellow educators," said organizers in Arizona.

Julia Conley

While Democratic lawmakers lauded the gun control package unveiled in the U.S. Senate after weeks of negotiations late Tuesday and national advocacy groups called the bill a "step in the right direction," educators, parents, and local civil rights organizations in Arizona rebuked their senators for standing in the way of farther-reaching reforms.

In a 64-34 vote, the Senate agreed to take up the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act hours after the group of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans released the 80-page bill, with senators hoping to pass the legislation by this weekend.

The bill includes a number of provisions aimed at making it more difficult for people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others to buy firearms, but gun control advocates across the country have expressed outrage in recent weeks as the lead Senate negotiators tempered expectations about the inclusion of broadly popular reforms including universal background checks and a reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons.

"We believe that while these incremental changes could help, as a response to the carnage of our gun violence epidemic they are only crumbs meant to appease the growing rage from people across the country demanding action."

In Arizona, organizers directed some of their ire at Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, who represent the state and who have stood in the way of ending the legislative filibuster—a step they say would allow the Senate to pass bolder gun control measures.

"The filibuster is killing us," wrote groups, including Arizona Educators United and the Arizona Justice Alliance as well as teachers and parents from across the state. "A handful of Democratic senators, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, are joining the Republican Party in allowing the endless slaughter of our schoolchildren."

"By prioritizing bipartisanship over the lives of people," they added, "these Democrats are allowing the most radical minority of Republicans to rip our democracy to shreds and stopping game-changing progress on common-sense gun reform."

The bill is being taken up by the Senate a month after a gunman armed with an AR-15 massacred 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

The horrific shooting—one of at least 278 mass shootings that have taken place so far this year—sparked renewed calls for stricter gun control measures. Universal background checks are supported by nearly 90% of Americans, while the reinstatement of a federal ban on guns like AR-15s—the expiration of which has been linked to an increase in mass shootings—is backed by more than two-thirds of the country.

As negotiations over bipartisan legislation began, however, longtime gun control advocate Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) quickly poured cold water on the idea that such reforms would be included.

Instead, the package released Tuesday includes "enhanced" background checks for gun buyers under age 21, funding for states to implement red flag laws, federal laws against interstate gun trafficking and straw purchases, and funding for school safety and mental health services.

"We believe that while these incremental changes could help, as a response to the carnage of our gun violence epidemic they are only crumbs meant to appease the growing rage from people across the country demanding action," said the groups. "After 19 innocent children lost their lives, we cannot and must not settle for crumbs."

The organizations demanded that Democrats end the filibuster and pass provisions including:

  • a ban on assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons;
  • a ban on high-capacity magazines;
  • universal background checks, including for internet sales and gun shows;
  • safe storage rules at homes;
  • an end to gun manufacturers' immunity from lawsuits; and
  • a ban on family members purchasing weapons for their kids.

"The filibuster is literally killing us—teachers, students, and community members," said Rebecca Garelli, a teacher and parent who signed the statement. "NOW is the time to end the filibuster and save the lives of our students, our community members, and our fellow educators."

While knowing that "Republicans in the Senate will continue to listen to the NRA and, despite the overwhelming support from the American people for universal background checks, banning assault weapons, and other key gun reform legislation, they will choose their donors over the lives of children," the groups demanded that the Democratic Party "keep their promises" and ensure that all the party's members vote to end the filibuster and pass "serious common-sense gun reform measures."

"They have the power to save lives," they said.

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