The House of Representatives has approved a package of limited reforms to federal gun laws. The Protecting Our Kids Act passed Wednesday by a vote of 223 to 204, mostly along party lines, with five Republicans in support and two Democrats voting against it. The bill would raise the minimum age for purchasing semiautomatic firearms from 18 to 21, ban magazines of more than 15 rounds and toughen penalties for gun traffickers and straw purchasers of firearms.
The House approved the reforms after lawmakers heard hours of harrowing testimony from survivors of gun violence. Eleven-year-old Miah Cerrillo described how she survived the Uvalde school shooting by covering herself in the blood of her friend and playing dead, before using her dead teacher’s cellphone to call 911. Also testifying was Zeneta Everhart, the mother of a survivor of last month’s domestic terror attack on African Americans in a Buffalo supermarket.
Zeneta Everhart: “To the lawmakers who feel that we do not need stricter gun laws, let me paint a picture for you: My son, Zaire, has a hole in the right side of his neck, two on his back, and another on his left leg, caused by an exploding bullet from an AR-15. As I clean his wounds, I can feel pieces of that bullet in his back. Shrapnel will be left inside of his body for the rest of his life. Now I want you to picture that exact scenario for one of your children.”
Police in Maryland have arrested a man they say plotted to kidnap or kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Twenty-six-year-old California resident Nicholas John Roske was reportedly found carrying a knife and a gun outside Kavanaugh’s home in Montgomery County. Prosecutors say Roske called the police himself; they say he was having suicidal thoughts and was upset by a leaked draft opinion showing the court’s conservative majority is prepared to strike down abortion rights under Roe v. Wade. Attorney General Merrick Garland promised a swift response.
Attorney General Merrick Garland: “Threats of violence and actual violence against the justices of course strike at the heart of our democracy, and we will do everything we can to prevent them and to hold people who do them accountable.”
Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell demanded the House immediately pass a bill to provide more security for Supreme Court justices and their families. McConnell continues to support a Republican filibuster of gun controls proposed by Democrats in the wake of the massacres in Buffalo and Uvalde.
After 10 months of meeting in private, the House committee investigating Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election and the deadly January 6 insurrection at the Capitol will hold its first public hearing tonight in primetime, at 8 p.m. Eastern. Democracy Now! will live-stream the hearings at democracynow.org. It will be the first of eight congressional hearings, modeled in part on the 1973 Watergate hearings. We’ll have more on the January 6 committee later in the broadcast.
In eastern Ukraine, Russian forces have seized most of the devastated city of Severodonetsk, but Ukraine’s military says its troops are fighting to hold the city’s industrial zone. Earlier today Russian forces fired on a Severodonetsk chemical plant where officials say civilians have been sheltering against Russia’s assault.
In Chernobyl, Ukrainian officials say nuclear radiation detectors are up and running for the first time since Russia briefly occupied the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster. This comes just days after a security camera at the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant captured video of what appears to be a Russian cruise missile flying at low altitude almost directly over the plant’s three active nuclear reactors.
The United Nations is warning the number of people facing extreme food insecurity could soar to more than 320 million unless Ukraine is allowed to resume shipping grain, cooking oil and fertilizer through ports on the Black Sea. On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with his counterpart in Ankara, where the two discussed the Kremlin’s plan to provide for a safe shipping corridor. After the meeting in Turkey, Lavrov said the onus to act was on Ukraine.
Sergey Lavrov: “We’ve explained today that grain can be transported freely to its destination. Russia isn’t putting any obstacles in the way. This requires Mr. Zelensky to give the command — if he is still in command of anything there — to allow foreign and Ukrainian ships to go into the Black Sea.”
Ukraine was not invited to the talks, and officials in Kyiv have voiced skepticism over the plan. On Thursday, the head of the Ukrainian Grain Union said it could take months to clear sea mines from areas around Odessa and Ukraine’s other Black Sea ports.
A banking trade group warns U.S.- and European-led sanctions are set to shrink Russia’s economy by up to 15% this year. The Institute of International Finance said Wednesday the sanctions “are unraveling [Russia’s] economy, wiping out more than a decade of economic growth, and some of the most meaningful consequences have yet to be felt.”
The Biden administration says it has secured 10 million pediatric COVID-19 vaccine doses and is prepared to make them available to children under the age of 5 before the end of the month. An FDA advisory group will meet next week to discuss Pfizer’s application for use of its pediatric vaccine; if it’s approved, the first shots for children as young as 6 months could begin by June 21.
Meanwhile, a panel of vaccine experts has recommended the FDA allow emergency use of Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine. The experts say the protein-based shots are highly protective against severe disease and death. This comes as NBC news reports U.S. states, territories, federal agencies and pharmacies have wasted over 82 million COVID-19 vaccine doses. That’s enough to vaccinate a majority of adults in Congo — a country where only 1% of people are fully vaccinated.
Former President Donald Trump and two of his children, Ivanka and Donald Jr., have agreed to be questioned under oath next month by New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office. This comes after the New York Court of Appeals ruled the trio must sit for depositions as part of James’s civil investigation into the Trump Organization’s business practices. The questioning will begin July 15, barring a court intervention.
The state of Arizona has put 66-year-old condemned prisoner Frank Atwood to death after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected calls for a reprieve. On Wednesday, prison officials strapped Atwood to a gurney and injected him with a lethal dose of pentobarbital, stopping his heart. Jimmy Jenkins, a reporter with The Arizona Republic who witnessed the killing, said the execution team struggled to find a vein for around 30 minutes, prompting Atwood to twice suggest new places on his body for the team to try. Jenkins tweeted afterward, “I just watched Frank Atwood direct the state of Arizona on how to insert IVs into his veins properly so they could administer the drugs that would kill him.” Atwood was the 39th person executed in Arizona since 1992 and the second in less than a month.
Workers at a Trader Joe’s supermarket in western Massachusetts have filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. If they’re successful, the workers will create the first union at Trader Joe’s, a company with more than 50,000 employees nationwide. Workers want health and safety concerns addressed, and want to reverse recent cuts to their benefits. The employees seek to form an independent union, called Trader Joe’s United, rather than affiliate with an established labor organization.
Belgium’s King Philippe has expressed his “deepest regrets” for Belgium’s abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the colonial era. King Philippe made the comments in Congo’s capital Kinshasa Wednesday during his first official trip to the country, where he was welcomed by Congo’s president, Félix Tshisekedi. But the king stopped short of a formal apology.
King Philippe: “The colonial regime was based on exploitation and domination. It was a regime of unequal and unjustifiable relationships marked by paternalism, discrimination and racism. It led to violent acts and humiliations. On my first trip to the Congo, here in front of the Congolese people and those who are still suffering from it, I wish to reaffirm my deepest regrets for these past wounds.”
Congolese opposition Senator Francine Muyumba wrote in response, “[I]n the face of the crimes committed by Belgium, regrets are insufficient. We expect an apology and a promise of reparations from him. It is at this price that we will definitely turn the page.”
Historians estimate that up to 10 million Congolese were killed during the first 23 years of Belgium’s rule beginning in 1885, as King Leopold II ruled the Congo Free State as a personal fiefdom. Communities that missed their rubber collection quotas were made to provide severed hands instead, and King Leopold had Congolese people imported back to Europe for his human zoo.