Atlanta, Colorado shootings renew push for gun control measures

The Atlanta spa shootings of March 16, combined with Monday's shootings in Colorado, have generated more interest in gun control legislation in Washington and Georgia.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
The Atlanta spa shootings of March 16, combined with Monday's shootings in Colorado, have generated more interest in gun control legislation in Washington and Georgia. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

WASHINGTON — The same day that U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, announced that he would hold a hearing on gun violence, a man drove to three Atlanta-area spas and killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent. Then on Monday, as Durbin was finalizing his opening statement and the questions he would ask during that hearing, another mass shooting in Colorado resulted in the deaths of 10 more people.

Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said Tuesday morning that there have been a total of 29 mass shootings in America this month. He said these incidents show that gun violence is a crisis, much like the coronavirus, and requires immediate action.

“We won’t solve this crisis with just prosecutions after funerals,” he said. “We need prevention before shooting. If there’s one thing which we should have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that when we face a public health crisis, we can reduce the toll of harm with commonsense, science-based solution.”

Durbin put his support behind several Democratic proposals, including one that would require background checks for nearly all gun sales. He also expressed support for increasing the waiting period to allow the FBI more time to complete background checks, red-flag laws that allow families or law enforcement agencies to petition courts to remove firearms from people who are considered at risk to themselves or others, plus a measure that would require retail stores to lock up firearms after hours.

Republican members of the committee said they agreed that Congress should do more to prevent gun crimes, but they have different ideas on how to do that. Iowa U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the highest-ranking GOP member on the committee, said beefing up law enforcement to ensure that violent criminals are not able to possess guns is a start. He also advocated for improving training so that officers can better identify people who are a threat to the safety of others.

“Early intervention is the best way to stop tragic mass shootings,” he said.

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Georgia U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, who is also a member of the committee, asked panelists to recommend other ways to reduce not only the number of mass shootings but also everyday violence experienced by residents in cities such as Atlanta.

“We’re still reeling in Georgia after the attacks on three Asian-owned small businesses took eight lives last week,” the Democrat said. “And there’s also a broader increase in violence across our society over the last year in particular.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised to bring the universal background check bill to the Senate floor for a vote even though it’s unclear whether it has support from at least 10 Republicans. Without that, the measure is likely to stall indefinitely because of the filibuster rule.

Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said the latest mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo., further convinced him that action is necessary.

“It has been less than a week since eight people were killed in another series of shootings in Georgia; we cannot seem to finish grieving one tragedy before another takes place,” he said Tuesday. “It is a reminder that we must confront a devastating truth in the United States: An unrelenting epidemic of gun violence steals innocent lives with alarming regularity.”

President Joe Biden ordered flags at federal buildings to fly at half-staff in honor of the Colorado victims, the same action he took last week after the Atlanta-area shootings.

“Less than a week after the horrific murders of eight people and the assault on the (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community in Georgia, while the flag was still flying half-staff for the tragedy, another American city has been scarred by gun violence and the resulting trauma,” the president told reporters Tuesday.

Biden put his support behind the gun measures that have already been approved in the House and said the Senate should not wait to act.

“The Senate should immediately pass — let me say it again: The United States Senate — I hope some are listening — should immediately pass the two House-passed bills that close loopholes in the background check system,” he said.

Biden also said he would like to see bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. His press secretary, Jen Psaki, separately told reporters that Biden is determining whether he can accomplish some of that through executive action.

Washington isn’t the only place where new gun laws are being considered in recent days.

In Georgia, Republicans who control the General Assembly, have proposed legislation that would loosen firearms restrictions while Democrats have introduce a package of gun control measures.

With the legislative session nearing its conclusion on March 31, a measure with a good chance of passing was amended by Republican members of the state Senate that would allow Georgia to recognize concealed carry permits from other states and relax other gun licensing rules during a national emergency. New language would also require law enforcement agencies to sell off any guns they obtain, such as through confiscation.

In Georgia, state Democratic legislators introduced a package of gun control measures that mirror some of the federal measures, though they stand no chance of passage without support from leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Democratic proposals in the state Legislature mirror some of the measures Durbin’s committee is working on at the federal level.

One seeks a five-day waiting period for the purchase of firearms; another would add new penalties for those violating the new rules. Another would require state-sanctioned law enforcement officers to be trained in “positive outreach methods” aimed at defusing violent situations. And a fourth would establish a language translation system within the state’s 911 communications hub.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Michelle Au, one of the sponsors, lamented the progress of her proposal for a five-day waiting period, noting that it has been assigned to a committee with no hearing scheduled. That puts the bill at the same progress point of separate legislation she filed five weeks ago that would require universal background checks for all gun sales.

State Rep. Josh McLaurin, a Sandy Springs Democrat and the sponsor of one of the measures, seemed to seize on one aspect of the spa shootings — the suspect purchased a gun the day of the attacks — to make a case for a waiting period.

“As we saw from the horrific events last week,” he said, “it shouldn’t be easy for a person to obtain and use a firearm immediately during their worst moment.”

Staff writer Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this article.