By D. C. Saturday August 31 2019
A month after the El Paso, Texas shooting, the Democratic-led U.S. House Judiciary Committee will consider new legislation to address what they describe as rising fears about a ‘convergence of mass shootings and ‘hate crimes”.
Cutting their summer recess short to consider the new measure after back-to-back shootings on the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio, Democrats hope to restart the gun-control debate before Congress returns on Sept 9, according to Reuters.
The panel will consider several bills that include a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and ‘red flag’ legislation that would encourage states to confiscate firearms from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.
But only one bill, named the Disarm Hate Act’, would seek to use ‘hate crime’ laws to curb gun violence. The measure, which mirrors laws already on the books in three U.S. states, would prohibit people convicted of certain violent ‘hate crime’ misdemeanors from possessing a gun.
Currently, federal law bars only those convicted of more serious ‘hate crime’ felony offenses from having guns.
But if approved by the committee and adopted by the full House, the measure could have a hard time in the Senate, where Republican aides say discussions have focused on background checks and ‘red flag’ legislation.
The National Rifle Association stated it sees no reason for Congress to change criminal law to control guns. NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said in a statement:
“Under current law, our legal and criminal justice systems have the tools to keep firearms out the hands of all dangerous criminals – whatever the motivation for their crime.”
But even if it became law, the ‘Disarm Hate Act’ could prove to be little more than symbolic.
Advocates say extending the ban to misdemeanors that involve physical force or a credible threat to personal safety could allow police to intervene early against individuals who could go on to carry out deadly attacks.
“We know that an early precursor to many of these mass shootings is some hate crime activity,” said U.S. Representative David Cicilline, who introduced the bill, which has 136 Democratic co-sponsors.
“If you look at communities of color, religious minorities or the LGBTQ community, hate crimes against each of these groups have increased,” Cicilline told Reuters.
Republicans favor legislation that would create a Mass Violence Prevention Center within the Justice Department to coordinate law enforcement responses to potential violence. It would allow for more federal prosecutors to address violent crimes and would try to reduce the flow of firearms to the black market by stiffening penalties for gun thefts from licensed dealers.
“If we’re going to help prevent mass tragedy, we need to keep guns off the black market. We need to help local, state and federal law enforcement better coordinate responses to potential threats of mass violence,” said a Republican committee aide, who requested anonymity.