'This feels different': Why advocates have real hope for gun reform after Buffalo, Uvalde shootings

A memorial at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, honors the 19 children and two teachers slain in a shooting massacre May 24.

The cycle of gun violence in the United States can feel familiar:A mass shooting occurs, followed by calls for tougher gun laws. Little if anything changes and inevitably, there's another mass shooting. Rinse, repeat.

But this time, gun reform advocates say, just might be the start of something different.

This time the U.S. experienced two particularly horrifying mass shootings just 10 days apart, the racially motivated attack that killed 10 people in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, and the massacre of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24.

In the wake of those tragedies, five states have passed a slew of gun reforms and Congress also passed its biggest gun safety package in three decades in a bipartisan vote.

"This does feel different to me," said Sean Holihan, state legislative director for the Giffords gun reform group. "Congress wasn't going to do anything. It took children being slaughtered in a school."

The House passes bipartisan gun reform.

The recent movement on gun legislation has been "extraordinary," said Tanya Schardt, senior counsel and director of state and federal policy at the Brady gun control advocacy group.

"Certainly, we've had devastating mass shooting events before," she said. "The ones that really strike me are Sandy Hook and Parkland, and there was certainly a coalescence around doing things. But I'm not sure that we have the same momentum that we have this time."

Some of those hopes were tempered after the Supreme Court overturned a New York handgun restriction, but Schardt and other advocates say they still feel more hopeful than ever.

"I think the outrage finally peaked to a point where people realize we can't do nothing here and we have to look at the guns," she said. "This just isn't normal. We can't and we shouldn't force our children to live and die this way, and we have an obligation to do more."

At the White House late last month, President Joe Biden said that people have urged the government to do something about guns for far too long.

'For God's sake, just do something'

"How many times have you heard that?" Biden said. "Just do something; for God's sake, just do something. Well, today, we did ... At a time when it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential."

The legislation enhances background checks on gun buyers 18 to 21 years old. It also adds dating partners to the list of domestic abusers who are prohibited from buying guns, eliminating the "boyfriend loophole."

The law also encourages states to develop better "red flag" laws that would deny guns to people who are deemed to be dangerous.

►Red flags and firearms checks: How the Highland Park suspect slipped through the cracks

At the state level, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware and California all have passed gun reforms after the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, though California's and New Jersey's legislation already had already been in the works.

More laws certainly would have passed in other states had their legislative sessions not already ended or been in their final days before summer break, Holihan said, adding that his group will push them to take action when they reconvene.

Among the most remarkable new legislation passed at the state level were bills openinggun manufacturers to lawsuits by those affected by gun violence. Such laws just passed in Delaware, New Jersey and California while New York was the first to pass it last year.

"Essentially, it just makes the gun industry like every other industry in the country, which means when you do something irresponsible, dangerous, negligent, and someone's harmed, you could be held civilly liable," Schardt said.

The gun industry argues that such laws will put small gun dealers out of business and lead to frivolous lawsuits.

Sales associate Elsworth Andrews arranges guns on display at Burbank Ammo & Guns in Burbank, Calif., on June 23. The Supreme Court has ruled that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense, a major expansion of gun rights.

As some gun laws strengthened, others relaxed

Although gun reform advocates are feeling hopeful, some states have only loosened gun restrictions.

In Ohio, for example, a law that went into effect on June 11 allows school districts across the state to authorize teachers, principals and other staff to carry guns into classrooms this fall, after 24 hours of training. Also in Ohio and neighboring Indiana, requirements for permitless carry have been relaxed.

Also last month, the Supreme Court expanded gun rights across the nation when it struck down a New York law requiring people applying to carry a concealed gun to provide a reason why they need the weapon.

Since Buffalo and Uvalde, at least 26 people have been killed in at least seven mass shootings in the U.S. An additional 52 people were injured in the shootings, which happened in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana.

Meanwhile, gun sales have been going strong in the U.S., where there are more firearms now than people. After mass shootings or when gun reforms seem likely, sales tend to rise.

In Delaware for instance, the same month the state Legislature passed six new gun laws, background checks soared. When the legislation passed in June, background checks more than doubled to more than 9,800, up from 4,300 the month before, according to the FBI.

Nationally, there have been more than 15 million background checks through the end of June. That figure is lower than the previous two record years, which were driven by the pandemic, but is higher than the years preceding the coronavirus pandemic.

Though the problem seems insurmountable at times, there's still plenty of hope, said Tom Mauser, who lost his 15-year-old son Daniel in the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado that killed 12 students and a teacher in 1999.

Tom Mauser holds up a pair of shoes belonging to his late son during a rally at the Capitol in Denver in April 2000. His son Daniel was killed in the Columbine High School shooting.

Mauser has been fighting for gun control ever since and has watched with frustration as the crisis has only escalated.

Last month Mauser spoke with Biden just after the president signed the historic gun legislation.

"I said, 'Mr. President, for 23 years, nothing's been done since Columbine,'" Mauser recalled. "Now we can see that something can be done. Let's build on it. He said, 'Yeah, we need to do more.'

"Unfortunately, it will take more tragedy but on the other hand, at least for those of us who are in the field, who are out there in the trenches, you need some hope sometimes.".

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Could gun reforms in wake of Uvalde, Buffalo mark turning point?