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Counterpoint: Gun Violence Is an Important Issue, but Not the Most Important

For another point of view please see Point: Gun Control Should be a Winning Issue in November

Less than a month before the 2022 midterm elections, most polls show that the No. 1 issue for likely voters is, as Democratic strategist James Carville famously quipped 30 years ago, “the economy, stupid.”

According to Morning Consult, as of Oct. 1, 77 percent of likely voters identify the economy as their top issue, followed by education (54 percent), gun violence (53 percent), and immigration and abortion (both at 51 percent).

Of course, this does not mean that crime and gun violence (and other societal problems) will not enter voters’ minds when they head to the voting booth this fall.

In 1992, the economy was in a recession, which is why Carville, advising then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton, assumed (correctly) that the economy would be the paramount issue.

In 2022, the economy will be in a recession again. However, unlike in 1992, the current recession also includes the worst inflation rate in more than 40 years. As of this writing, the rate of inflation remains stubbornly high at 8.3 percent. In 1992, inflation hovered around 3 percent.

In general, the economy is facing several problems causing major concern for voters. Wages are not keeping pace with inflation, which means living standards are declining. More than 11 million jobs remain unfilled. Interest rates are rising, making homes and cars considerably more expensive. The stock market is in free fall. Supply chains stay in flux. And, with winter approaching, Americans are preparing to face sky-high home heating bills.

Make no mistake, the vast majority of Americans are worse off today than they were a few years ago. If history is any indicator, their vote will hinge mostly on this issue.

In 1992, violent crime was also a massive problem. As the Clinton White House describes, “America’s families and communities faced serious crime problems in 1992. More violent crimes were reported in 1992 than ever before, with nearly 2 million murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults occurring in the United States. Gun crime had skyrocketed to the highest point in 20 years with more than half a million total gun crimes reported.”

In 2022, the country faces a similar crisis, as crime is increasing throughout the country. However, for whatever reason, when voters cast their ballots, they tend to prioritize the economy above all else, especially when they sense that the economic prospects of their children are in peril.

Perhaps this is because voters are constantly aware of how a poor economy affects their lives. Every time Americans pass a gas station, they are reminded that they are coughing up more and more money to fill up their tanks.

Voters also receive daily reminders about persistently high inflation whenever they go to the grocery store or purchase practically anything.

In other words, the vast majority of voters experience the hardships of a poor economy virtually every day. They can’t escape inflation and other economic problems.

On the other hand, more esoteric issues like gun violence are not something most Americans encounter daily, therefore it is likely these types of issues do not resonate as much with the vast majority of voters.

Although voters are aware that gun violence and crime are certainly a big problem, because most do not face the problem head-on daily, it makes sense that they would compartmentalize such issues as important in general but probably not highly relevant to their individual life circumstances.

Crime and gun violence tend to be worst in limited areas, most notably in inner cities, which means most voters can avoid this problem by avoiding the specific places where crime is most rampant. Such is why Americans are fleeing crime-ridden cities in droves.

Yet, inflation and a stagnant economy is a national phenomenon that occurs everywhere, affects everyone and causes chronic stress.

This Election Day, as was the case in 1992 and countless other elections, it’s still the economy, stupid.


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PA Sen. Toomey Discusses Bipartisan Gun Control Bill Passed by Senate

Just hours before a historic bipartisan gun control law passed in the U.S. Senate—with the support of 15 Republicans–Sen. Pat Toomey shared his thoughts with reporters in a conference call Thursday.

The bill, crafted quickly by a bipartisan committee of senators in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, is a compromise, said Toomey (R-Pa.).

“For over a decade now, (Sen.) Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and I have been working with Republicans and Democrats to try to find ways to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and dangerously mentally ill people who are not supposed to have them,” Toomey explained. “I think this step that we’re taking this week when we pass this bipartisan Safer Communities Act will take us in a significant step in furthering that goal. It’s not exactly the same thing as Manchin-Toomey, that’s certainly true. But there’s a lot of common sense and there’s a sensible approach.

“First the area I have focused on is background checks and it will strengthen the background check system, especially for young adults,” said Toomey. “It will also provide federal assistance for state crisis intervention programs.

“And that will help to address mental health, drug, veteran’s courts, or extreme risk protection orders,” he said. “There are enhanced penalties for gun trafficking and straw purchases and it’ll provide codification of what constitutes sellers of firearms being engaged in the business of selling. And that invokes the obligation to be a federal firearms dealer and requires the seller to conduct background checks.

Toomey added, “I believe it will make our communities somewhat safer. And it will certainly protect the Second Amendment right of law-abiding Americans. It’s always important to me that Second Amendment rights not be infringed.”

“You have to calibrate expectations,” Toomey said. “And strive for what is doable, what can be accomplished. Sen. Manchin and I worked on expanding background checks for a long time.”

While the legislation does not require a background check on all gun sales, it will likely expand them because more gun sellers will be required to register as Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealers.

Also, criminal history and mental health adjudications for juveniles will now be part of background checks for those gun buyers under 21.

The bill cleared the Senate 65-33 and passed the House  234-193 Friday afternoon, with 14 Republicans voting with all Democrats to support it.

House GOP Whip Rep. Steve Scalise worked against the bill’s passage in the House.

Scalise (R-La.) called it “an effort to slowly chip away at law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights, this legislation takes the wrong approach in attempting to curb violent crimes.” Scalise was a victim of gun violence when a Bernie Sanders supporter began shooting at a congressional Republican baseball practice in June 2017.

Delaware Valley Journal asked Toomey about Scalise’s critique.

“Congressman Scalise and I just disagree on this. I don’t see anything in this legislation that infringes on Second Amendment rights. Just as a background check itself does not infringe on Second Amendment rights. And very conservative, pro-Second Amendment Supreme Court justices have explained why a background check does not infringe on Second Amendment rights. So look, we just disagree. There’s going to be a significant bipartisan vote in favor of this legislation in the Senate and I am confident the House will follow suit,” Toomey said.

Toomey was also asked about opposition from the National Rifle Association.“I don’t know what the NRA is objecting to,” Toomey said. In 1999 the NRA “totally supported expanding background checks, then they decided they were no longer in favor of expanding background checks. I don’t know what their rationale is.”

Also, Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a New York case that gun owners do not have to provide a reason to carry a concealed weapon. Asked about whether that is a good decision, Toomey said he had not read the opinion and could not give a “detailed critique,” but went on to give a full-throated endorsement of the decision.

But “the Second Amendment is very clear. It gives you a constitutional right to bear arms. To bear means to carry. It meant that when it was written. It means that today. And if a state chooses to systematically deny people the right to carry arms, except under extraordinary circumstances, to me that state is clearly infringing,” Toomey said.

“It should not be the case that you have to prove to some bureaucrat that special circumstances require you to be able to exercise your constitutional rights,” he added. “We don’t impose that on other constitutional rights. I don’t have to prove I have a need to practice religion.”

Asked about whether he hopes Pennsylvania would take advantage of grants for “red flag” laws or laws that could allow people to report someone who might be a danger to themselves or others if they have a gun, Toomey said the state legislature should look at “what would benefit Pennsylvania the most.”

The bill includes $750 million for grants which can be used for many purposes such as expanding access to mental health care and addiction care, veterans’ courts.

President Joe Biden has promised to sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

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Toomey: Gun Control Deal Still Possible

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) believes lawmakers are the closest to reaching a bipartisan agreement on gun control laws since he has been in the Senate.

“My colleagues and I met yesterday to discuss a path forward for bipartisan legislation that can help prevent other tragedies in America without infringing on law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights,” Toomey tweeted this week. “I’m optimistic about the direction we’re going & look forward to continuing to work together to create the best possible product.”

The retiring senator, who has long been one of the few Republicans open to tightening the country’s gun laws, said he sees support for legislation expanding background checks and encouraging states to adopt red-flag laws to keep firearms out of the hands of “violent criminals” and the “dangerously mentally ill.”

In a series of media appearances this week, Toomey said there is work being done behind the scenes by a group of bipartisan senators who are optimistic common ground can be found on gun control legislation in the wake of mass shootings in Tulsa, Okla., Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y..

The group, which has met at least four times, includes Sens. Richard Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), according to The Hill.

Toomey stressed an agreement must strike at a “tough narrow path” that also respects Americans’ Second Amendment right to own guns.

He described the group’s proposals as a “moving target” that includes additional funding for mental health and school safety as well as incentivizing states to adopt red-flag laws that would enable courts to temporarily seize weapons from owners deemed risks to themselves and others, The Hill reported.

“We’re closer than we’ve been since I’ve been in the Senate going back 12 years,” Toomey said during a Fox News interview.

“This is a big challenge. Sometimes we lump all of these killings into one category when, in fact, they’re very, very different in their nature. Some of these are gangs fighting each other over turf in their respective drug businesses. In other cases, of course, it’s these horrific sensational-sized cases of a deranged young man who goes in and mows down innocent civilians.”

The House on Wednesday passed a wide-ranging bill package called the “Protecting Our Kids Act” in a 223-204 vote.

It came hours after a tense hearing where victims of the massacres urged lawmakers to take action. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) was one of just five Republicans who voted for the proposals.

“While the House-passed measures tonight are far from perfect, they are a necessary step to incentivize the Senate to finally advance a bipartisan proposal that will address the legislative component of school and community safety, once and for all,” said Fitzpatrick. “Let me be clear: I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and all of the protections that it entails. I also believe that we have no higher responsibility as leaders, no higher responsibility as human beings, than to protect our children and to keep our community safe. These are not and must not be mutually exclusive concepts.”

The bills would raise the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, ban high capacity magazines, require a registry for bump stocks, and tighten federal firearms regulations to apply to so-called “ghost guns,” which are manufactured without serial numbers by private citizens.

It would also create tax incentives for sales of safe storage devices and add criminal penalties for those who violate gun storage regulations at their residences.

The gun control package faces long odds in the evenly divided Senate, as 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster from Republicans who view sweeping gun-control measures with skepticism.

Toomey has been at the forefront of changing the nation’s gun laws for more than a decade. He co-sponsored legislation in 2013 with Manchin calling for the expansion of background checks on all commercial gun sales. That bill ultimately failed.

Toomey acknowledged any agreement on background checks in the current talks would likely look “different” than the previous iteration of his bill.

“A background check makes sense,” he said. “They can be done pretty quickly.”

Pressed about his support for tightening gun laws by Fox News, Toomey acknowledged that any legislation isn’t a “panacea” but said lawmakers cannot continue sitting on their hands.

“There is no one thing that will prevent mass killings. All we can hope for, in my view, is – on the margins – make it more difficult for someone who is dangerously mentally ill or someone who is a violent criminal to buy a firearm,” he said. “A determined criminal is going to be able to eventually get a gun. I understand that, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to make it harder for that person to get a gun.”


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DelVal Democrats Jump on Gun Control Band Wagon

Democrats in the Delaware Valley congressional delegation are on board with a gun-control package being considered during a House Judiciary Committee emergency hearing this week, calling the proposals “common-sense, constitutional measures” that could prevent future tragedies.

The panel is expected to consider an omnibus package of eight bills, dubbed the “Protecting Our Kids Act,” during a mark-up session Thursday before a full House vote.

It comes in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, where gunmen killed more than 30 people.

The bills contain proposals to raise the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, ban high capacity magazines, require a registry for bump stocks, and tighten federal firearms regulations to apply to so-called “ghost guns.”

It would establish new safe home firearms storage requirements and provide a tax credit to those who purchase the secure storage devices.

Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) called the proposals “common sense” legislation that could help avert future shootings like the one in Texas that claimed 19 schoolkids and two teachers.

That massacre came after 18-year-old Payton Gendron gunned down 10 Black grocers at the Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., in a hate-fueled attack that was streamed online.

“Our duty in Congress is to protect America’s kids—not gun manufacturers’ profits,” Scanlon told Delaware Valley Journal. “I refuse to sit back and watch preventable tragedies play out day after day, year after year. It’s not just horrific mass shootings like those in Buffalo and Uvalde but also the gun violence that wreaks havoc on our communities, unchecked, every day.

“We are not hopeless. We can change this. The ‘Protecting, Our Kids Act’ includes common sense, constitutional measures to address a range of steps we can take right now to prevent gun violence. There is no single magical solution to end the epidemic of gun violence, but there’s much we can do.

“The only unacceptable response is inaction. I look forward to beginning the markup process for this package and invite all of my colleagues — on both sides of the aisle — to show the American people that they’re serious about saving lives,” she said.

The Democrat-controlled House is expected to vote on the bills next week, CBS News reported.

The package faces long odds in the evenly-divided Senate, with most Republicans likely opposed to sweeping gun control measures. And President Joe Biden has not helped, making repeated gaffes that critics say feed fears among Second Amendment advocates. For example, Biden said there is no “rational basis” to own guns that fire 9-millimeter ammunition — among the most common weapons in the country.

“The .22 caliber bullet will lodge in the lungs, and we can get it out. A 9mm bullet blows the lung out of the body. The idea of a high caliber weapon, there is simply no rational basis for it in terms of self-protection, hunting,” Biden said.

The White House was forced to walk back his statement and assure the public the president doesn’t support a ban on handgun sales.

Tim Mack, a spokesman for Congresswoman Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery), called the House proposals “incredibly vital.” He added the gunman in Buffalo had “no business at that age having access” to what Biden called “weapons of war.”

“We think that it’s something that’s incredibly vital given the two previous mass shootings. They bring us all a lot of sadness,” Mack said.

Aubrey Suber, a spokeswoman for Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-Berks/Chester), said Houlahan supports the gun control bill.

“Sadly, there are too many elected officials who have accepted this uniquely American tragedy as inevitable,” Houlahan posted on her website. “But we can prevent this. We can prevent town names from being forever remembered by bloodshed and tragedy; first responders from walking into carnage; parents shrieking after learning their child didn’t survive. And we have the roadmap to do it.”

“It starts with passing universal background checks, a commonsense reform that over 90 percent of Americans agree on,” she said. “The refusal of Republicans in the Senate to consider this legislation is, in no uncertain terms, deadly. I stand ready, again, to work with my colleagues on action of any kind and show our students and educators we care. To the small number of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle willing to find a way forward: thank you.”

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) did not respond to requests for comment outlining his position on the proposed gun reform package.

However, Fitzpatrick released a statement following the Uvlade tragedy offering condolences to the families of the victims and calling on lawmakers to “find a solution” to the nation’s gun issue.

“You can never truly adjust to the loss of a loved one’s life that has ended too soon. My prayers are with the families of those who died, and I hope that we can work together as a country to find a solution that protects our children and citizens from the evils of unnecessary violence,” he said.

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GUTOWSKI: Biden’s New ATF Nominee Already Generating Controversy

President Biden is again trying to get a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed, but he is already dealing with a significant hurdle.

He announced former prosecutor Steve Dettelbach as his pick to become the permanent director of the ATF. Dettelbach will now face a rough confirmation process, one that his predecessor David Chipman did not make it through. It got that much harder with news that Dettelbach had repeatedly used heated rhetoric to cast doubt on the integrity of Ohio’s elections while running for attorney general. He accused his opponent, Dave Yost: “Don’t let Yost distract you. He is part of this mess. … Secret meetings. Rigged elections,” Dettelbach tweeted on April 11, 2018.

A review of Dettelbach’s social media by The Reload found he declared in at least 17 tweets that elections in Ohio were “rigged” in several different ways. He told local media the same thing. In November 2017, he wrote an op-ed accusing Yost of defending a voter registration policy he labeled “insidious” and the equivalent to cheating.

“It’s about whether elected officials can rig the political system to get a partisan edge,” Dettelbach said.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Dettelbach’s  comments. However, Biden said nominating him was necessary to combat the recent murder spike and enact his efforts to tighten gun regulations.

“Steve is immensely qualified,” Biden said. “Steve’s record makes him ready on day one to lead this agency.”

Dettelbach spent several decades as a prosecutor. He was unanimously confirmed to be a U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio in 2009. However, his career took a political turn after leaving the office in 2016. In 2017, he launched his unsuccessful campaign for attorney general.

During that race, Dettelbach established his support for gun-control laws from universal background checks to an “assault weapons” ban while speaking with a local NPR affiliate. Yost ended up winning by about four points.

Biden’s nomination of an ATF director just a few months from the midterm elections will likely elevate guns as a campaign issue. Dettelbach’s confirmation hearing could come within the next month and, should he receive bipartisan support, a vote could follow soon after. However, Dettelbach’s rhetoric and record as a political candidate could make his confirmation more difficult and cause the process to stretch out past August as it did with Chipman, who withdrew his nomination to head the agency.

Moderate senators will decide the ATF nominee’s fate as only 50 votes are required for confirmation. The president has to persuade independent Angus King  of Maine and Democrats Jon Tester of Montana, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia to back Dettelbach. None of them publicly said they would have voted for Chipman, and King was widely cited as the main roadblock to his confirmation.

Gun-control groups, several of whom endorsed Dettelbach in his 2018 race, were enthused by the pick. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said it was the result of her group’s efforts and called on the Senate to confirm him quickly.

However, his confirmation is already facing skepticism from the firearms industry. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade group, said it would “listen carefully” to Dettelbach’s comments at his confirmation hearing, but will only support an ATF director who “will not politicize the ATF to advance a partisan gun-control agenda.”

Gun-rights groups were more blunt, with the National Rifle Association calling the pick Biden’s way of doubling-down “on his attempt to put a gun-control advocate in charge of the agency responsible for regulating America’s firearms industry.”

During his nomination remarks, Dettelbach pledged support for ATF agents and staff. He said he would focus the agency on fighting gun violence by going after gang members and individual criminals alike.

“As we emerge from this pandemic, we’ve got to recognize many Americans still face fear and isolation not because of a virus but because of an epidemic of firearms violence,” he said. “It’s not a new problem, and it has many causes. That’s why it’s going to take an all-hands-on-deck partnership approach to address that issue. And the ATF will be there.”

Since it became a Senate-confirmable position back in 2006, only one permanent ATF director has been confirmed. For years, the agency has been run by a series of short-term acting directors. Dettelbach is the latest to try to buck that trend.

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