A number of prominent Democrats on Thursday pushed for the national adoption of California-style gun-control laws in the immediate aftermath of a horrific shooting at a California high school.
Within hours of the news that two students had been murdered, and another three injured, during an attack at Saugus High School just outside Los Angeles, current and former Democratic lawmakers began advocating for a federal universal background check system and a national ban on "assault weapons." The calls for these policies came even as California's own implementation of both laws failed to prevent the shooting.
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"We can't go 24 hours without news of another mass shooting somewhere in America," Senator Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) said on the Senate floor as news of the shooting was still coming in. "My kids and millions of others hide in corners of their classroom or in their bathrooms preparing for a mass shooting at their school, and this body does nothing about it. The good news is we have a piece of legislation that enjoys 95 percent support in the American public and will undoubtedly make an enormous impact on gun violence rates in this country."
Murphy then called for the Senate to "immediately take up H.R. 8," a universal background check bill passed by the House of Representatives.
Even as the tragedy unfolded, former president Bill Clinton called for both the passage of a federal universal background check system and an assault-weapons ban during an interview on CNN.
"I think if they got any support in the House some of the senators might vote to modernize the background check law, too," Clinton said. "I think they should do the same thing with the assault-weapons ban and the ammunition limit."
California has a universal background check law, assault-weapons ban, and magazine ban, as well as a number of other strict gun-control measures. Gun-control group Giffords Law Center gives the state an "A" rating and ranked it the state with the strictest gun laws in the country. The inability of such policies to prevent Thursday's attack casts doubt on Democrats' insistence that such laws are the most effective path forward to prevent future attacks.
Police announced on Thursday that the 16-year-old attacker had used a semiautomatic handgun, but did not release any information on how he obtained the gun. Federal law prohibits anyone under 21 years of age from purchasing a handgun anywhere in the United States. Additionally, California has a law prohibiting adults from leaving guns where minors can gain unauthorized access to them. In other words, the suspected shooter could not have obtained his firearm legally.
Neither universal background checks nor an assault-weapons ban would have had any impact on the shooting, as the attacker was too young to purchase a handgun anywhere in the country and the handgun he used would not be prohibited under any proposed definition of "assault weapon"—including California's own strict standard.
Responding to the shooting, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D., Calif.) also pushed for federal universal background checks during a CNN interview. When CNN host Jake Tapper asked why California's strict gun-control laws did not prevent the school shooting, Swalwell blamed the gun laws of the state's neighbors.
"You're only as safe as the laws of the states around you, particularly for California it's very loose laws in Arizona," Swalwell said. "Our neighbor Nevada for a long time was a big part of the problem, but legislators there have gone Democratic, have put in place background checks and other restrictions. So we expect to see fewer firearms coming in, but that's why I think you need across-the-board federal laws here."
Police have released no information to indicate the gun used in Thursday's shooting came from out of state. Since the handgun in question is available to purchase in California, and the suspect is too young to legally purchase anywhere in the country, it is unclear why Swalwell sought to blame neighboring states' gun laws for the attack. The congressman offered no further explanation for why California's gun-control laws failed to prevent the shooting.