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Gun control advocacy groups rally at Capitol, urge senators to pass reform

(WASHINGTON) — In the wake of mass shootings that have rocked the nation, the gun safety groups Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action came to the U.S. Capitol on Thursday to pressure senators to pass stalled gun-related legislation.

Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts had a message for members of Congress: Do your job.

In an interview with ABC News, Watts said “We’re all only as safe as the closest state with the weakest gun laws because half of the country’s states don’t have background checks on gun sales.”

The House has done its job in passing gun reform, Shannon said. “The Senate just had to take up those pieces of legislation and pass them,” she said. “And I don’t know how you don’t act after all of the shooting tragedies we’ve had lately.”

Erica Lafferty said everything about the Texas elementary school mass shooting reminds her of the day she lost her mother, who she says died protecting her students as principal of Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 during the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

“I wanted to step away and not deal with it publicly, so I did. For five minutes. Until I heard my mother’s voice in my head saying that I cannot sit this one out,” Lafferty said.

“The time to act is now. The time to act was ten damn years ago when my mom was gunned down in the hall of an elementary school,” she said.

The rally was joined by Democratic Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Alex Padilla of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware as Congress works to pass gun reform legislation.

Though polls show a majority of Americans have signaled support for reforms such as universal background checks and red flag laws, Republican lawmakers have historically blocked those proposals from becoming law. Given the 50-50 split in the Senate, Democrats face an uphill battle, needing all members of their delegation plus 10 Republican senators to support the legislation.

Representatives have already passed gun reform legislation in the House aimed at expanding background checks on all gun sales; however, those proposals have been stalled in the Senate since 2021.

Now, a bipartisan group of senators is beginning a new round of negotiations, with Murphy serving as the lead negotiator on the Democratic side, after renewed calls to curb access to guns in the wake of the Uvalde elementary school shooting and New York’s mass shooting in a Buffalo supermarket.

“I want to be clear — this is not an invite to negotiate indefinitely. Make no mistake about it. if these negotiations do not bear fruit in a short period of time, the Senate will vote on gun legislation,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rick Scott of Florida told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott part of the discussion is focused on “red flag” laws that would allow a special protection order to be enacted on individuals deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, permitting law enforcement to remove weapons from their possession.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland tweeted Wednesday the House will move on a bill proposed by Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., to create a federal red flag law when its lawmakers return from recess in the first week of June.

The negotiations come as the Senate was set to leave Thursday afternoon for a 10-day recess. Despite the break, lawmakers are hopeful negotiations will continue and a bipartisan agreement could be reached.

“Frankly, sometimes it’s easier to work those issues outside of Washington rather than when we’re here,” Murphy told reporters outside the Capitol.

A much larger protest is expected in Washington when the group March for Our Lives holds a demonstration demanding action on June 11.

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