Gun Reform Activists Reflect On ‘Devastating’ 52 Mass Shootings In January

In the U.S., there were more mass shootings than there were days in the first month of the new year.

On Jan. 5, eight lives were claimed in a shooting in a small town in Utah.

A few days later, five were shot in a home in North Carolina.

And just one week later, six people, including a 10-month-old baby and a 16-year-old mother, were fatally shot in California.

In the first month of 2023, there have been at least 52 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which tracks mass shootings in which there are four or more victims.

Two of the deadliest attacks occurred in California less than 48 hours apart: the Monterey Park shooting in which 11 were killed and the Half Moon Bay massacre, which left seven dead. These back-to-back shootings occurred in areas with high Asian populations; the Monterey Park attack was carried out at a Lunar New Year celebration.

Then, before the first month of the year came to an end, a gunman opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle at a Target store in Nebraska on Tuesday.

“The start of 2023 has brought seemingly constant gun violence, with more mass shootings than there have been days. As devastating as this is, it’s far from surprising,” Mikah Rector-Brooks, a press associate for March for Our Lives, told HuffPost, adding that this brutality will only increase without basic legislation on federal gun violence prevention.

The U.S. has seen more than 600 mass shootings every year since 2020, averaging almost two shootings a day. In a country that has more guns than people in it, activists are devastated by the gun violence that has plagued the country. But they remain hopeful that 2023 will bring change at the state and federal level.

The U.S. has made progress over the last 10 years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which left 20 children and six adults dead on Dec. 14, 2012, said Peter Ambler, co-founder of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

In the immediate aftermath of that massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, attempts were made to get Congress to pass a bill that would expand background checks for people who seek to purchase guns, though it was met with a Republican-led filibuster. A decade later, President Joe Biden’s administration passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which included $250 million in funding for community violence intervention programs, enhanced background checks for buyers younger than 21 and investment in child and family mental health care.

Gun reform activists point out that it was also notably the first piece of federal gun violence prevention legislation to be passed in 30 years.

“This was a tremendous step forward, but it’s the floor, not the ceiling, and there’s a long way to go to reach a country without gun violence,” Rector-Brooks said.

Despite the wins, there were some unfortunate setbacks to the movement.

Two months after two back-to-back mass shootings rocked the country in 2022 — including a targeted attack at a Buffalo, New York, grocery story that killed 10, and a horrific school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that claimed the lives 19 children and two adults — a U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened the door for more New York residents to legally carry a gun in public.

In June 2022, the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association vs. Bruen effectively overturned New York’s concealed carry law, which was more than 100 years old, deeming it a violation of the Second Amendment.

The New York law had required individuals to provide “proper cause” in order to obtain a license to carry a concealed firearm in public.

Rector-Brooks said that during the 2022 congressional session, senators also missed a historic opportunity to pass a new assault weapon ban, spurred on by the rise in mass shootings involving rapid-fire AR-15-style rifles, adding that such a law would have saved lives.

“While I’m hopeful that Congress members will fulfill their responsibilities — ensuring the safety of their constituents — I can’t help but feel betrayed by their inaction before yet another mass shooting occurred,” Rector-Brooks said, adding: “Divided government can’t be an excuse for inaction.”

And this year might bring more of the same, due to the power of the gun lobby.

Despite some major successes at the state and federal level, the gun lobby has been successful at implementing dangerous policies in a number of states, said Ambler, such as rules that allow carrying a weapon without a permit, which allows almost anyone to carry a gun in public without having to undergo a background check or training. Similarly, Congress has been unwilling to support actions to prevent gun violence because members such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) are in the gun lobby’s pocket, said Kristen Ellingboe, communications director of Alliance for Gun Responsibility, based in Washington state.

“Without a gun violence prevention majority in the House, progress in Congress is a long shot,” she told HuffPost.

Still, gun-control advocates remain optimistic that Congress can achieve meaningful reforms. But, if faced with federal inaction, they say states will need to make up for it.

For example, in the last decade, Washington state has added dozens of gun responsibility laws, including three ballot measures that passed, according to Ellingboe. Among the changes are a strengthened the background check system, funding for community violence intervention, and a higher age limit and tightened rules for purchasing semi-automatic assault rifles.

“We have an ambitious policy agenda for the 2023 state legislative session,” Ellingboe said. The priorities, she said, include banning the sale of military-style assault rifles, establishing a way for gun violence survivors to seek redress in court, and requiring a permit, safety training and a waiting period to purchase firearms.

Other states, including Colorado, Minnesota and Michigan, are expected to follow suit in pushing gun reform legislation this year.

“I am hopeful that many states will follow the lead of others, like Illinois, by taking matters into their own hands and passing statewide legislation to combat the gun violence epidemic, Rector-Brooks said. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed into law a statewide ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines on Jan. 10.

“This not only helps that state but also builds momentum to push even harder at the federal level,” Rector-Brooks said.

Gun reform activists emphasize the importance of pushing for universal background checks, funding for lifesaving community violence intervention programs, investments in gun violence research and further actions to disarm domestic abusers (among the policies often referred to as red-flag laws) and ban bump stocks (a prohibition on the rapid-fire devices was struck down Jan. 6 by an appeals court).

“I am hopeful we can continue to grow the progress we’ve made and make this country safer. Gun violence has gone from being a political third rail to a kitchen table topic, and it’s clear that the vast majority of voters — Republicans and Democrats, gun owners and non-gun owners alike — want to see change on this issue,” Ambler said.

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