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So little has changed on gun control in 25 years that top Democrats could restate exactly what they said in 1997 and almost no one would notice

Then-Sen. Joe Biden appears at the White House to discuss gun control measures in 1997.

Courtesy: C-SPAN

  • President Joe Biden and current Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Schumer’s comments on guns in 1997 still apply today.
  • There have been more than 300 mass shootings in America so far this year.
  • The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act failed to revive the federal assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004. 

When then-Sens. Joe Biden and Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Chuck Schumer in 1997 addressed media about the dangers of assault weapons, they had little idea their comments would almost entirely hold up a quarter-century later. 

“It’s harder to get something passed than it is to prevent something good from repealed,” said Biden, then a senator from Delaware, to reporters gathered on the White House lawn.

“So I think if you take away these big clips, then you reduce the firepower and if you have a big clip and a high velocity weapon, you have a real, real problem,” said Feinstein in 1997, now the longest-serving senator in California history, over 25 years before the Uvalde shooting.

Schumer, then a congressman from New York, echoed the sentiment, telling reporters: “Until we do something real on guns, the tragedies, whether it be at the Empire State Building in New York, or in Los Angeles, or wherever, as long as criminals can get guns more easily than they can get a car, there are gonna be lots of killings.”

Schumer then added: “Here we are in Washington, DC, tough gun laws. But as we’re speaking, there’s someone who’s driving in a car up from Florida, or North Carolina, or South Carolina, and in the trunk of that car are 50 guns and they’re gonna sell them on a street corner on Washington, DC.”

There have been 112 homicides in Washington, DC, during 2022 through July 13 — more than all the homicides the city recorded for the entire year of 2014, according to DC Metropolitan Police Department crime statistic. Most are gun-related.

New York City leads other metro areas with 87% of all gun and 92% of handgun recoveries originating out-of-state, according to a 2016 report by the New York Office of the Attorney General that analyzed the city’s aggregate crime gun trace information from 2010 to 2015. 

This year, gruesome killings this year in Highland Park, Illinois; Buffalo, New York; and Uvalde, Texas; have received considerable international attention. The 18-year-old gunman responsible for the mass shooting in Uvalde that killed 19 elementary school children and two teachers carried two AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles, at least one of which he is reported to have bought soon after his birthday.

But across the nation, there have been an average of more than 10 mass shootings each week this year — the Gun Violence Archive has counted more than 300 in the US so far in 2022.

Furthermore, a February poll by the Pew Research Center found that the total gun deaths in 2020 represent a 43% increase from a decade prior.

Since 1994, Congress had been unable to advance major gun safety legislation, until last month. Then, Congress passed, and Biden signed, a bipartisan, but limited gun-safety bill. 

To the disappointment of Democrats, the bipartisan gun control bill Biden signed last month did not revive the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, enacted in 1994, that included a sunset clause that automatically repealed the ban in 2004. 

The bill also does not include more sweeping measures to restrict high-capacity ammunition magazines. Republicans said they refused to consider any mandatory waiting period for gun sales or a license requirement to purchase an assault weapon, as reported in the New York Times. 

“Until you have a national law, you can’t accomplish anything,” Schumer, now the Senate majority leader, said in 1997.

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