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Inside America's latest efforts to curb gun violence

The lawn outside the U.S. Capitol is covered with 7,000 pairs of empty shoes to memorialize the 7,000 children killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook school shooting, in a display organized by the global advocacy group Avaaz, in Washington, DC, March 13, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
The lawn outside the U.S. Capitol is covered with 7,000 pairs of empty shoes to memorialize the 7,000 children killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook school shooting, in a display organized by the global advocacy group Avaaz, in Washington, DC, March 13, 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Mass shooting after mass shooting, the federal government took no action.

“I’m here on this floor to beg, to literally get down on my hands and knees to beg my colleagues,” Sen. Chris Murphy said. “Find a path forward here, work with us to find a way to pass laws that make this less likely.”

A month after Senator Chris Murphy made that impassioned speech President Biden signed a gun reform bill into law – the first federal gun legislation to pass in three decades.

For families who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence, it was a defining moment:

“When I knew what we did was going to save lives,” Fred Guttenberg said. All I could do was think about a parent who I will never get to meet because their child didn’t get shot. And I cried like a baby over that.”

Today, On Point: America’s latest efforts to curb gun violence.

Guests

Josh Horwitz, co-director of the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University.

Matthew Platkin, acting attorney general of New Jersey. In July, he inaugurated a new agency called the Statewide Affirmative Firearms Enforcement Office, which is specifically designed to handle lawsuits against gunmakers. (@NewJerseyOAG)

Also Featured

Fred Guttenberg, his 14-year-old daughter was killed in the Parkland school shooting in 2018. (@fred_guttenberg)

Transcript: Highlights From The Show’s Open

KIMBERLY ATKINS STOHR: This past June was, by any measure, a momentous month here in the U.S.

On the 23rd, the U.S. Supreme Court made the most significant Second Amendment ruling in more than a decade.

NEWS CLIP [Tape]: In a 6 to 3 decision, the court struck down New York’s law, which places restrictions on concealed handguns. That law was enacted more than a century ago. A majority of the court ruling the Constitution protects a person’s right to carry a gun outside the home.

ATKINS STOHR: The ruling didn’t just affect New York. It also impacted five other states including California, Massachusetts and New Jersey with similar permitting laws. It was a big blow to gun violence prevention advocates.

And just a day later, another historic ruling.

NEWS CLIP [Tape]: This is the first time the Supreme Court has ever granted a constitutional right, which it did so when Roe was decided in 1973 and then took it away. In roughly half the country, abortion is, as of now, or soon will be, illegal. 

ATKINS STOHR: The court overturned Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision guaranteeing a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

So much was going on in so few days that something really big got buried in all this. And it happened just the very next day on June 25th.

JOE BIDEN [Tape]: From Columbine to Sandy Hook to Charleston, Orlando. Las Vegas. Parkland. El Paso. Atlanta. Buffalo. Uvalde. Their message to us was to do something. How many times have you heard that? Just do something, for God’s sake. Just do something. Well, today we did. 

ATKINS STOHR: That day, President Joe Biden signed the first major federal gun reform legislation in 30 years. Year after year, Democrats had introduced gun reform legislation. And every time it failed in the Senate.

Some measures never even made it to the floor. But this time the bill did make it to the floor. And it was voted through with 15 Republicans in favor, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas senator John Cornyn, who led the effort to get the bill passed.

President Biden signed the bipartisan bill into law one month and a day after the

shooting at Robb elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. In which nineteen students and two teachers were killed. But the problem with gun violence in this country isn’t just headline-grabbing mass shootings.

Since the start of the pandemic, gun deaths have reached record highs. In 2019, there were just over 15,000 gun fatalities. A year later, that number was more than 19,000, not including suicides. Meanwhile, in 2020, Americans bought 22.8 million guns, up 6 million from 2016.

According to the CDC, 124 people die from gun violence EVERY DAY. For those left behind, this bill is personal.

FRED GUTTENBERG: For the first time since the week that I buried my daughter, I cried like a baby.

Fred Guttenberg’s daughter Jaime, was just fourteen years old when she was killed in a mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018.

GUTTENBERG: I’ve not allowed myself to have these intense emotional moments, because of this focus on getting something done and moving forward. But when I knew what we did was going to save lives, all I could do was think about a parent who I will never get to meet, because their child didn’t get shot. And I cried like a baby over that.

ATKINS STOHR: Fred now is a prominent activist against gun violence, leading a very different life to the one he led prior to 2018. Back then, he was a successful businessman, at one time owning nineteen Dunkin Donuts franchises. He felt safe in his community. His children went to a good school. He says it never occurred to him that gun violence could impact his family.

GUTTENBERG: I really believed I was sending my kids to schools where this was never going to be their reality. But my daughter was killed in school. And my son was there as well. My son ran to save his life. And he’ll deal with the consequences of that for the rest of his life, because he’s got survivor’s guilt now. He’s got PTSD from this. And this was in Parkland, Florida, the community where you’d never thought it would happen.

ATKINS STOHR: The day after the shooting, there was a vigil in Parkland. Fred was asked to give an impromptu speech. And in that moment, while he was up on that stage, Fred realized what he needed to do.

GUTTENBERG: And I’ll never forget seeing this crowd of thousands of people crying, holding candles, and for the first time it hit me. This was gun violence.

And I just said, this time gun violence came to the wrong community and messed with the wrong dad. And I went home that night and I walked in my house and I told my friends and my family that were still at the house, I said, I’m going to break that F-ing gun lobby. And it became my mission.

ATKINS STOHR: In the 4 and a half years since then, Fred has put his life of business behind him to travel to D.C. countless times to lobby lawmakers. He’s participated in numerous rallies and marches. But so many times those efforts never changed anything until June 25th this year, when the bipartisan gun reform bill was signed into law.

GUTTENBERG: For the first time in 30 years, we broke through the wall. We broke through the gun lobby wall. We broke through the inability to get anything done.

ATKINS STOHR: On July 11th, President Biden held a ceremony at the White House to celebrate the passage of this landmark legislation. Dozens of politicians, activists and family members who lost loved ones to gun violence were there, including Fred Guttenberg and his wife.

GUTTENBERG: I don’t get my daughter back. I will always have to visit her at a cemetery. But I’ll always know that her life will have this historic importance. That is something that is really big to me. I even went up to Senator John Cornyn, who I am no fan of, who I have ridiculed a lot.

But at the White House that day, I said to Senator Cornyn, ‘For all that I’ve said about you over the years. I will always, always know that you are part of doing this and I just want to give you a hug.’ And I did. On the White House lawn, I gave Senator Cornyn a big hug.

ATKINS STOHR: Fred says that day he finally felt like he could exhale. The fight is not over. He says there is so much more that needs to get done, but for now he’s going to savor this moment.

GUTTENBERG: Unlike other things where you can have a measurable result right away, having somebody not get shot is something we won’t ever know. But there will be instances of people not getting shot because of this legislation. And that is a big deal.

ATKINS STOHR: Just two days after Fred went to that White House ceremony, he went to the cemetery to mark Jaime’s 19th birthday.

GUTTENBERG: I think every second of every day about the things that she should be doing. It is tragic to think that my my daughter should be a student at the University of Florida, living with her cousin, which was always the plan, training to ultimately become a physical pediatric therapist. And that she isn’t. And it’s because of that that I will always be fighting to do more.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.