homeworld NewsUS gun control: Lawmakers take a small step forward, Supreme Court takes a giant step backward

US gun control: Lawmakers take a small step forward, Supreme Court takes a giant step backward

US gun control: Lawmakers take a small step forward, Supreme Court takes a giant step backward
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By CNBCTV18.com Jun 24, 2022 11:30:27 PM IST (Updated)

While both the US Senate and House passed a rare bipartisan Bill to introduce a modicum of federal gun control measures, the Supreme Court, headed by Conservative judge Clarence Thomas asserted the constitutional right of Americans to bear firearms in public, underscoring the deep cleft in American society.

The United States saw two momentous developments in terms of gun control and gun rights on the same day. While the US Senate passed a rare bipartisan Bill in a late-night vote, to introduce a modicum of federal gun control measures, the US Supreme Court made the biggest expansion to gun rights in decades. On June 24, the US House of Representatives also passed the Bill and now it awaits President Joe Biden's signature to become a law.

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The US Senate passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act with a 65-33 vote in the first significant gun control legislation in the country in nearly three decades. The vote saw 15 Republican senators voting along with all 50 of their Democrat counterparts to pass the Bill, which will see measures such as tightened background checks, stringent checks for gun buyers between 18-21 year olds, and restricting gun ownership for those convicted of domestic abuse, along with $13 billion pledged in federal funding to stop gun crimes.

However, on the same day, the US Supreme Court gave a landmark verdict saying carrying guns in public is a fundamental right of all Americans. In a 6-3 ruling split down ideological lines, the US Supreme Court struck down a century-old law from New York state, which asked gun permit owners to prove they had legitimate self-defence needs to carry a gun.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act

The new gun-control Bill passed by the Senate was passed by the House of Representatives on June 24, with several Republicans, like Liz Cheney, defying the party's House leadership to vote in favour.

While the Bill will introduce measures like more stringent background checks, it fails to impose an outright ban on any sort of automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines.

Some of the provisions of the Bill include $750 million in funding to states for red flag programmes, i.e. crisis intervention programmes that will prevent individuals in any sort of mental crisis from having access to firearms. Another key measure is to prevent any individual, who has been convicted of domestic violence from purchasing a firearm for five years. This is something the gun safety advocates have been campaigning for years.

Another $100 million will be spent on the National Criminal Instant Background Check System, which will now include juvenile criminal and mental health records as well. More systemic interventions in the form of community and school-based behavioural health services for children and families to prevent gun violence will also be expanded under the Bill.

“This bipartisan legislation will help protect Americans. Kids in schools and communities will be safer because of it. The House of Representatives should promptly vote on this bipartisan bill and send it to my desk,” said President Biden.

The Supreme Court verdict

The US Supreme Court struck down the law, which requires individuals to have a special need to carry weapons in New York. Similar laws in several other states like Maryland, California, New Jersey, Hawaii and Massachusetts are now at risk of being struck down as well.

The longest-serving judge on the apex bench, where appointments do not have any term limits or set dates of retirement, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a 66-page opinion verdict, which may have further implications for raising gun control at the level of lower courts.

“The constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defence is not ‘a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees,” wrote Justice Thomas.

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution has long been a contentious political issue that gun control activists fight against. “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” reads the amendment, and in the new verdict, the SC has inferred that New York’s limiting laws were unlawfully infringing on this fundamental right.

While the court has previously stated that “sensitive” areas like schools, government buildings, polling places and courthouses can have gun control measures, the new verdict throws up the question of how gun control would now function in other public places like subways, nightclubs, movie theatres and sports stadiums — a question that the Supreme Court chose not to answer.

Gun violence in the US 

With more than 275 mass shootings in the country since January, the epidemic of gun violence is a horrifying reality in the country. Despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, US is wracked with seemingly unsurmountable problems like racism and poverty. And gun violence is the leading cause of death among children and teens in the country. Recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas and Buffalo, New York saw the death of 30 people, including 19 children.

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