Three years ago on Monday, a heavily armed gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and started shooting. When he was done, he had killed 26 people, including 20 children, most of them with an assault-style rifle equipped with high-capacity magazines. He saved his final shot, reportedly fired from a handgun, for himself.
The massacre shocked the nation's collective conscience and spurred calls for congressional lawmakers to do more than offer the "thoughts and prayers" that have become commonplace in the aftermath of mass shootings in the U.S. Many argued that this tragedy, like many before and after it, demanded meaningful action.
The White House sprang into action, assembling a task force and introducing an ambitious set of proposals designed to stem gun violence. They included more controversial items like reinstating the assault weapons ban and restoring a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines, measures designed to target the specific weaponry used by the gunman. Lawmakers also lobbied aggressively for highly popular initiatives, like implementing universal background checks for gun sales and making gun trafficking a federal crime.
After years of inaction thanks in part to powerful gun lobby interests, there was finally a promising push in Congress to address the gun violence that rips through the U.S. at rates far higher than any other developed nation. Three years and many mass shootings later, the effort on Capitol Hill has culminated in this truly remarkable list of legislative achievements.
Oh, never mind. Congress hasn't passed a single piece of gun control legislation, beyond voting in 2013 to renew an expiring ban on plastic firearms, which could potentially bypass security checkpoints at airports and other locations. Most recently, Senate lawmakers worked to block a package of gun violence legislation, including a measure to bar individuals on terror watch lists from purchasing firearms.
This may come as a surprise to anyone who's heard the near-constant warnings from groups like the National Rifle Association, which regularly insist that lawmakers are coming for the guns of law-abiding Americans. Or to anyone who's noticed that gun sales always spike in the wake of a mass shooting.
The failure of Congress to pass even the most modest reforms on gun laws has led to a sense of frustration in some circles.
And in the meantime, children have continued to die in gun violence with troubling frequency. NBC News reported on Monday that at least 555 children under the age of 12 have been shot to death in the three years since Sandy Hook, a rate of about one every other day.
But where Congress has failed to move the needle on gun control, many states have taken up the fight. In the wake of Sandy Hook, lawmakers in New York and Connecticut banned the possession of semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity magazines, for example. In fact, over the past three years, 39 states have passed at least 117 new pieces of legislation that make gun laws more strict, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a nonpartisan group that tracks legislation across the country.
Not all movement on state gun laws has been in favor of tightening regulations, however. Last year, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence also reported that at least 70 successful state measures had weakened gun laws since Newtown.
President Barack Obama hasn't given up on broader gun violence legislation, despite the display of fecklessness in Congress. Last week, the White House announced that it was finalizing a proposal to expand background checks for gun purchases without congressional approval.
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