The white supremacist who shot 10 people dead in Buffalo, New York, was able to buy an assault rifle months after New York state police took him into custody for making a threat about committing violence. The gun store owner who sold the weapon says a background check showed a clean record. We look at how background checks alone are not enough to prevent gun violence, as both mass shootings and weapons sales have skyrocketed in recent years without more legislation at the federal level. Multiple bills proposing harsher gun restrictions have been blocked by filibusters in Congress. “Our demand is that we renew an assault weapons ban at the federal level and also that we restrict the production of high-capacity magazines or large-capacity magazines,” says Kris Brown, president of Brady, one of the oldest gun violence prevention organizations in the U.S.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
Saturday’s racist massacre in Buffalo, New York, was the 198th mass shooting of this year. A mass shooting is often defined as when four or more people are shot or killed. The 18-year-old white gunman killed 10 people, all of them Black, at a supermarket in the heart of Buffalo’s Black community.
Investigators say Payton Gendron posted online about the racist ideology that drove his attack, and created a private chatroom on Discord about 30 minutes beforehand, sharing his plans with others. Gendron also wrote online about how he legally bought at a local gun store the Bushmaster XM-15 semiautomatic rifle used in the attack, then illegally modified the gun to use a high-capacity magazine. He also had a shotgun in his car and planned to use a rifle he says his father bought him for Christmas in 2020.
Law enforcement officials say Gendron was taken to an emergency room for a mental health evaluation last year after he turned in a high school project about murder-suicide. He waited for 15 hours for the evaluation. It took 15 minutes. He was not involuntarily committed. The incident did not generate a red flag to prevent him from legally accessing deadly firearms.
In response to the attack, the House of Representatives approved the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act Wednesday with the support of just one Republican lawmaker. It calls for the creation of domestic terrorism offices within the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. More than half of the terrorist incidents in the United States where people have died over the last 10 years have been committed by right-wing white supremacist extremists. Meanwhile, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced an investigation into social media platforms Gendron used.
For more, we’re joined by Kris Brown, president of Brady, one of the oldest gun violence prevention groups in the United States.
Kris, welcome back to Democracy Now! It seems like there’s actually hardly a discussion right now about gun control, about laws passed to prevent — I mean, in the past, you could have a child, you could have a teenager very angry, but they don’t have access to these high-capacity weapons. Now they do, all over this country. What are you demanding happen?
KRIS BROWN: We have demanded that the federal government, Congress, pass an assault weapons ban. Brady was responsible, Jim and Sarah Brady. A year after passing the Background Check Act in 1993, Jim and Sarah saw that there was a proliferation of mass shootings with assault weapons at that time, and enacted in 1994 an assault weapons ban. And that was in effect, unfortunately, Amy, just for a decade, because at the very last minute in the Senate, a provision was included in that law that sunset that law after a decade. And so it expired, it lapsed, not because it wasn’t working. All of the research shows that for the decade that that federal assault weapon ban was in effect, you saw a reduction in the use of those kinds of weapons in any kind of mass killing. And in fact, the states that have assault weapons ban also see those kinds of reductions. So we know these kinds of laws work. Our demand is that we renew an assault weapons ban at the federal level and also that we restrict production of high-capacity magazines or large-capacity magazines.
In this particular instance, what happened in Buffalo is that the shooter went out of the state of New York to purchase, apparently, exactly that, a large-capacity magazine, and then modified the firearm that he had to take that large-capacity magazine. We see this time and time and time again, Amy, with respect to these shooters and these shootings, the use of a large-capacity magazine, because most of these guns have magazines that just hold 10 rounds. Large-capacity magazines are those magazines that hold more — in some cases, 100 rounds. Why is that important? Because time is against you if you are carrying out these kinds of acts. The time it takes to stop and reload and put a new magazine on is the time in which you could be tackled, in which you yourself could be shot. And the shooter, in his manifesto, notes he uses exactly these kinds of weapons for those kinds of purposes.
So, it’s obvious what we need to do. Our frustration is actually right now with the United States Senate, because we’re passing these kinds of bills. We have a background check bill pending, for the second term of Congress in a row, in the United States Senate, and there it sits. We have enough votes right now. We’ve done the counts to know that we could pass a background check bill in the United States Senate, but for the filibuster. It’s the same filibuster that is stopping the progress around the Voting Rights Act, around a variety of other important priorities of President Biden. And so Brady also has loudly and will continue to proclaim that the filibuster is killing us.
The reason we say that is, let’s think about what this means for our democracy. We understand that the issue of guns, for no good reason, has become polarized and politicized in America. But Americans agree on the solutions. Ninety percent-plus of Americans across this country want the Brady Law to be expanded, the bill that’s sitting in the Senate, over a simple majority. Last poll I saw was 67% of Americans want an assault weapons ban. Why aren’t we getting these things through? Because of certain arcane laws or rules — not even a law — like the filibuster, that stops the debate on laws like this that nine out of 10 Americans want, like the Brady law, because the filibuster demands 60 — 60 — votes for any — for cloture, for any of these things to come forward.
So these things are connected, to be honest. Our issue of gun violence prevention is connected deeply with issues related to our democracy. And that’s why we’re taking those on, too, and really want all Americans to understand: If you want this change, we need to end the filibuster. We have done everything we can as an organization: activism, showing up, voting, getting the House of Representatives to pass these kinds of bills. We need to end the filibuster now if we want the next step to happen, which is the enactment of these laws. And that could happen tomorrow. It could happen tomorrow, because we have the votes on background checks, which would be an important first step, if we end the filibuster.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Kris, can you talk about whether Biden should take — could take and should take executive action on this, given the obstacles in Congress?
KRIS BROWN: Absolutely, yes, he should. And he has, I will say. I have a huge amount of respect for the president. I know, having talked to him, he is deeply, deeply frustrated and upset by the continuation of gun violence in this country. And that’s why he campaigned on tackling this issue. He hopes, like all Americans, that Congress would do its job. But its failure to do that has not stopped him from issuing a series of executive actions — strengthening the enforcement ability of the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, to regulate the sale of guns in this country, which is an essential first step in strengthening the Brady Law; putting significant increases in his budget to help fund things like effective and efficient background checks across the country, effective and efficient powers of the ATF to shut down and reform the 5% of gun dealers that are responsible for the 90 — nine-zero, 90 — percent of crime guns across the country, which is driving homicide rates everywhere, including in places like New York, which has very strong gun laws but has a huge amount of guns coming in, sold lawfully, but to traffickers who then use them to sell them in places like New York. And he also has focused on the issue of ghost guns — so, so important. He has banned ghost guns. We worked with the administration for over a year for putting those forward.
He needs to continue those efforts, though, looking at the problem as a comprehensive problem that touches so many Americans. We lose 45,000 Americans a year to gun violence. That’s 2020 numbers, Amy. That’s the highest rate in 25 years of gun deaths, surpassing auto fatalities as the number one killer of Americans today — American youth. We need to fix this. And what we have to do, and what I’d like the president do, is actually talk much more frequently about the fact that this is a public health epidemic, and we need to tackle it like that. So, while he has moved a lot of executive actions forward that really focus on DOJ, Department of Justice, I would like to see him move more executive actions forward that focus on the public health angle of this and actually really incent agencies, through HHS, Health and Human Services, Medicaid and Medicare, CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, and other federal agencies, to look at this comprehensively and think through how we can prevent gun violence in this country. Why is that important? Because for 20 years —
AMY GOODMAN: We have 30 seconds.
KRIS BROWN: — the CDC was prohibited from even researching gun violence. So we want this president to come forward and call it what it is: This is a public health epidemic. Let’s treat it like we did automobile fatalities in the '50s: have a comprehensive response. And the thing is, it's preventible. If we do that, I’m confident that we can save lives. And I think that’s an America all of us need to have. It’s one that’s worthy of how great we say we are.
AMY GOODMAN: Kris Brown, I want to thank you for being with us, president of Brady, one of the oldest gun violence prevention groups in the United States, of course an issue we will continue to cover.
Next up, we go to Chile. Stay with us.