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Gun control put on US ballots

Mass shootings bring question of right to 'bear arms' to the elections' fore

By LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | China Daily | Updated: 2022-11-07 09:34
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Linda Beigel Schulman shows a photo of the 17 murdered students and staff members during the sentencing hearing in Florida on Wednesday for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz. Cruz, who killed 17 people on Feb 14, 2018, was sentenced to life in prison. AMY BETH BENNETT/POOL/REUTERS

Mass shootings bring question of right to 'bear arms' to the elections' fore

Gun control is emerging as a top issue in some states as voters go to the polls in midterm elections in the United States on Tuesday.

Iowa and Oregon have measures on the ballot that are expected to have a direct impact on gun ownership, said Andrew Willinger, executive director of the Center for Firearms Law at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

If the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment gains a majority of votes in Iowa, the right to own and bear firearms would be added to the state's constitution and the judiciary would be required to strictly scrutinize all alleged violations of this right.

In Oregon, voters will decide on the fate of Initiative 17, which if passed would result in a statute requiring all prospective gun buyers to obtain a permit before doing so and also ban large-capacity ammunition magazines, Willinger said.

In addition, current and proposed gun legislation will likely play a major role in closely watched gubernatorial contests in Texas and New York, he said.

In Texas, where the third most-deadly school shooting in US history occurred at Robb Elementary School in the town of Uvalde in May, the incumbent Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, will face his challenger, Democrat Beto O'Rourke, in Tuesday's election.

After the Uvalde shooting, in which 19 students between the ages of 9 and 11 and two teachers were shot dead, Abbott focused on mental health-related issues and school security rather than poor gun control as the cause. He has been criticized for signing into law provisions allowing people to carry guns without a permit. O'Rourke, a firm supporter of stronger gun regulation, has vowed to repeal the legislation if he is elected.

Abbott and O'Rourke also disagree over measures such as restricting the sale of semi-automatic weapons for certain age groups, Willinger said.

Purchasing age

The gunman in the Uvalde shooting bought two AR-15-style rifles after he turned 18, the legal purchasing age in Texas.

On June 23, barely a month after the Uvalde massacre, the US Supreme Court struck down New York state's concealed carry law that required an individual to demonstrate "proper cause" before being able to carry concealed weapons in public places.

In response, the state's Governor, Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, signed into law provisions strengthening gun control, including a strict licensing process for concealed carry permits and bans on people carrying concealed weapons in "sensitive places", such as schools, parks, libraries, government buildings and mass transit.

Hochul's Republican challenger, congressman Lee Zeldin, argues that New Yorkers should have the right to safely carry firearms. He has also opposed Hochul's new gun restrictions, including the creation of "gun-free zones".

The Supreme Court decision laid out "a historical standard for judging gun regulations under the Constitution", Willinger said. It signals that courts would take on a more prominent role than politicians when it comes to gun laws in the future, he said.

"Even if the midterm elections lead to new gun regulations in some states, we can expect legal challenges to those laws."

About 62 percent of nonpartisan voters polled by the Pew Research Center in August said the gun policy is very important to their vote. More than 100 TV ads from Republican candidates and support groups have featured guns in an attempt to galvanize their base during the election campaign, The New York Times said. Democrats are less likely to highlight the issue, it said.

This year, 581 mass shootings have occurred in the US, according to Gun Violence Archive.

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