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Not many people have a platform like that of an NFL head coach. They regularly speak in front of reporters and television crews to offer their thoughts and feelings on the subjects of the day. Most of the time they talk about football. But sometimes, real-world events come to light that need to be addressed.
Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith took time at the end of his Thursday news conference to speak about the tragic murder of 19 children and two teachers at a Uvalde, Texas, school on May 24. Here's what he did with it.
“I’m not going to get into some political rant,” Smith said. “Part of that me probably thinks our political process is broken. On both sides. It has been hijacked, in my opinion, by extremists.”
Smith went on to say that there is “a lost art to compromise" and to "debate" that he “appreciates everyone’s opinion” and that our leaders “can’t find a compromise solution to keep military-grade assault weapons out of the hands of mentally ill people.”
The biggest problems with this statement are that such a compromise already exists — and only one of those “hijacked” sides refuses to vote on it.
Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr explained this already when he passionately spoke about the shooting before Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday, hours after the shooting. He called on Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to vote on House Resolution (H.R.) 8 — also known as the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 — which has sat on the Senate floor without a vote for more than a year after it passed the House of Representatives twice since 2019.
The bill is the epitome of compromise when juxtaposed with the epidemic of gun violence in America. Uvalde was the 212th mass shooting in the United States this year and the 27th to take place in a school. This shooting happened just 10 days after 10 Black people were killed in a Buffalo supermarket.
H.R. 8 doesn’t call for a mass recall or unilateral ban of firearms in the United States. All it does is require background checks on the sale or transfer of firearms by unlicensed and private sellers. Currently, Americans can acquire firearms at gun shows or online without a background check.
“It's been sitting there for two years,” Kerr said. “And there's a reason [Senators] won't vote on it — to hold on to power.”
That isn't even the only gun reform bill that passed the House in the past year. H.R. 1446 — the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 — increased the amount of time that a federal firearms licensee must wait to receive a background check before transferring a firearm to an unlicensed person from three days to 10. This would close the "Charleston Loophole" that allowed a white supremacist to acquire a firearm and kill nine Black people in 2015 at a Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina.
As Kerr alluded to earlier, one side of the political aisle in the Senate simply refuses to even put either bill to a vote. The Senate requires 60 members to end debate on most legislative proposals and advance to a vote, but with the current makeup at 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats, Republicans can simply filibuster and prevent certain bills (like with gun reform) from ever receiving a vote. Which means even if Democrats are currently in the majority thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote, the path to passing legislation is nearly entirely contingent on Republican cooperation, and the ensuing gridlock prevents much from getting off the ground.
Even if Majority Leader Chuck Schumer manages to force a vote on gun control legislation when the Senate reconvenes next week, it faces an uphill battle. A recent New York Times poll of Republican Senators found that 31 declined to comment or deflected when asked about how they would vote on either gun reform bill. Five were open or undecided on their support of the bills and 14 opposed or were leaning against. And one Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, doesn’t support the bills.
The healthy majority of Americans in multiple polls actually support broader background checks for firearms. A full two-thirds (68 percent) favor "requiring criminal and mental background checks for all those buying guns, including at gun shows or private sales," according to a recent Yahoo/YouGov poll. That includes 56 percent of Republican respondents.
So the compromise and support on the issue Smith called for actually does exist. It's just a matter of putting it to a vote in the Senate. That takes “both sides.” But until one of those "hijacked" sides even wants to debate the bills in place, it's all noise. Especially comments like Smith's.