States Lead on Gun Violence Prevention as Congress, White House Drag Feet

December 20, 2019

Democratic Attorneys General, Teachers, Gun Violence Survivors Spotlight State Action to Prevent Gun Violence; Facebook Live Stream Linked Here

More than a Dozen Democratic AGs in D.C. This Week to Meet with Administration Officials, Republican AGs, and Other National Leaders During Annual NAAG Winter Meeting

WASHINGTON, D. C. – The Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) hosted a press conference overlooking the White House today with Democratic Attorneys General representing nine states, the National Education Association(NEA), and gun violence survivors to share with the American people the issues they had hoped to raise with President Trump regarding gun violence prevention and school safety. The President indicated he was hoping to speak with state Attorneys General about school safety during his press conference in the wake of the tragic Parkland high school shooting that left 17 dead. Some Republican Attorneys General were invited to the White House last week, but Democratic Attorneys General have yet to be included in ongoing conversations.

Joined by Becky Pringles, the Vice President of the NEA and Greg Gibson, a gun violence survivor from Massachusetts whose son was shot and killed in a school shooting and whose sister died by gun suicide, the focus of the press conference will be on the strategies working in their states to combat gun violence while the President calls for arming teachers and inaction continues to plague Congress and the White House. The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education.

“Americans do not want to turn our public schools into prisons, educators into armed guards, and students into prisoners,” said Becky Pringles, Vice President of the NEA. “That is not what the survivors of the tragic Parkland shooting are demanding. Those who are proposing arming educators need to listen to Parkland students, educators, and parents. They are demanding real solutions to curb gun violence like those offered by educators, parents, and — most importantly — the students. Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence.”

“I’m tremendously proud of the job that our attorney general and lawmakers of Massachusetts have done to prevent gun violence with sensible gun laws and I’m inspired by the kids of Parkland,” said Greg Gibson. “I think they’re bringing a completely different tenor to this debate. These kids have never known in their lives a day where the threat of a school shooting wasn’t present. These kids are the ones growing up with this reality and they’re going to be the ones who change it.”

Democratic Attorneys General from more than a dozen states are in Washington, D.C. for the National Association of Attorneys General meeting, a nonpartisan annual conference of these state leaders. While the President has called for arming teachers, he has yet to engage in a conversation about the role Democratic Attorneys General play in combating gun violence, the lessons learned from the work done in their states, and perspectives from states with some of the strongest gun laws and lowest rates of gun violence.

“The facts are that strong gun laws save lives,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “Universal background checks save lives. Banning large capacity magazines and assault weapons saves lives. That’s what the overwhelming majority of Americans on both sides of the aisle want. That’s what most of us in law enforcement want. It is time once and for all to put politics aside and come together to act and save lives.”

“In many parts of the District of Columbia, gun violence threatens the lives of our young people every day — and the flow of guns into the District is not a problem we can stem without help from other states and the federal government,” said District of Columbia Attorney General and DAGA co-chair Karl Racine. “While we are fighting hard to make the District a safer place, we call on Congress to enact common-sense gun solutions to prevent weapons of war like assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines from being so easily accessible.”

“For too long, Washington has failed to pass meaningful gun safety measures, which even the Supreme Court of the United States has decided in the Heller decision that the right to bear arms is not unlimited and gun ownership would continue to be regulated,” said Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. “Failure to act by Congress and the White House requires action by the states.  As Attorneys General, it is our responsibility to put forward sensible and thoughtful measures that will have a meaningful impact on gun violence in this country and save countless lives.”

“After the massacre of children and teachers in Newtown, Maryland passed strong gun safety legislation in 2013,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “It included submission of fingerprints for use in background checks to purchase hand guns, bans of the sale of assault weapons and large capacity magazines.  Maryland’s assault weapons ban was upheld by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in a ringing decision that stated that assault rifles are weapons of war, not protected by the 2nd Amendment.”

“But, much more needs to be done,” continued Frosh.  “National action is imperative.  If Congress and President Trump continue to pretend that gun violence can be contained by arming teachers and by encouraging citizens to carry concealed weapons, the carnage will only get worse.”

“State Democratic Attorneys General are on the forefront of so many of the important issues—and today there is no other issue more important to our states than gun safety,” said Oregon Attorney General and DAGA co-chair Ellen Rosenblum.  “We will not stop fighting for common sense gun safety measures and expanded background checks until our children, teachers and communities are safe. If Congress refuses to act, it will be the role of the states to create real change.”

“It’s time to act, not talk,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “In California, we have some of the most advanced gun safety laws in the country. We passed the first legislation to require a license for concealed carry, we were first to require background checks for all gun sales, first to ban bump stocks, and first to establish an automated system to track individuals illegally possessing guns. While Washington drags its feet, our special agents are out in the field seizing illegal firearms.”

“Our kids should never have to feel that kind of fear or witness that kind of violence when they go to school,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “I’m moved by the students who have spoken up to demand common sense reforms in the wake of this tragedy.  These children lost 17 of their classmates and friends. They are right to be angry and to demand change from Congress and the President, who have failed to act to protect Americans. Students are leading, and policymakers need to follow.”

“Many times, I’ve held the hand of someone who’s lost a loved one to senseless violence or to the reckless use of firearms, including suicide. I have tried homicide cases and have prosecuted many people for firearms violations,” said Maine Attorney General Janet Mills. “That’s why, as Attorney General, I’ve made it a priority to prevent domestic abusers from being able to get their hands on a firearm. But I know we must, and can, do much more to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”

Democratic Attorneys General from California, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virginia spoke today. They also stressed the importance of elections and talking about gun violence prevention as a key voting issue.

“If there are elected officials out there who still fear the political wrath of the gun lobby they need to get over that because lives are at stake,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. “People are dying preventable deaths every day because of inaction on gun safety. And I’m proof that you can take on the gun lobby, even in their own backyard, and win.

“So my message to elected officials is to listen to your constituents, be responsive to them, and do what you know in your heart is the right thing to save lives and make our communities safer,” Herring continued. “And my message to voters is that if you want action on gun violence, you’ve got to vote for it. The only way we’re going to get anything done is by making politicians more afraid of voters than they are of the gun lobby.

A number of Democratic Attorneys General who could not attend the event showed support by highlighting the leading role states play in curbing the gun violence epidemic including elevating key efforts in Delaware, New Mexico, and Vermont.

“Over the last decade, my predecessor Beau Biden and I worked with Delaware’s legislature to fight for stronger gun safety laws,” said Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn.  “In some areas we succeeded — after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School five years ago, we worked with the Governor to persuade our legislature to pass one of the nation’s toughest state background check laws.  In some areas the fight goes on: we are still trying to pass important bills restricting assault weapons and bump stocks—and allowing for firearms to be kept from people who pose a risk to the community.  But in a country where people can travel over state lines to purchase weapons, we need the President and Congress to step forward and take concrete national action on gun violence prevention.”

“We can clearly no longer rely on the federal government to protect New Mexicans, and so as Attorney General I am working to strengthen background checks at the state level, to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals and those suffering from mental illness, and those individuals who perpetrate domestic violence,” said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. “Gun violence against families and law enforcement must be reduced with all stakeholders working together.”
“I was proud to stand with House and Senate leadership in Vermont last week calling for universal background checks and standing up for victims of domestic violence,” said Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan. “These are common sense public safety measures and I fully support these efforts.”

Following President Trump’s inauguration, Democratic Attorneys General nationwide entered the public limelight as they worked together in unprecedented collaboration, challenging his attempted unlawful activities – from the Muslim ban to attacks on women’s rights – in court. DAGA’s 2017 Year in Review Memo highlighted the essential work of Democratic Attorneys General to represent their constituents and oppose the Trump administration’s harmful actions.

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