As communities around the country have been targets of mass shootings in recent months, much of the focus on Capitol Hill has been on debate over gun control laws.
But now a new measure is taking a different approach at tackling the problem, as it is aimed at giving prosecutors and law enforcement more tools to hold the shooters and their support systems accountable.
The Mass Shooter Prosecution Act would allow mass shootings to be prosecuted as acts of terrorism.
“They are terrorists and they should be prosecuted as terrorists,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), the bill’s co-sponsor. “It also allows prosecutors to go after the material support networks. Networks that provide aid, perhaps its guidance, instructions maps. Whatever helps these attackers carry out these vicious assaults.”
Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX) also co-sponsored the measure.
“My community of El Paso was forever changed by the actions of a domestic terrorist fueled by white supremacy theories,” said Escobar in a statement. “With this legislation, we’re giving law enforcement the tools they need to follow through with investigations into terrorist networks and any individual responsible for attacks against our communities.”
The language of the bill defines a mass shooting as involving a machinegun or certain semiautomatic weapon in a massacre in which three or more people were killed.
This proposal comes as Congress has held several hearings and votes on gun laws and the role of gun manufacturers because of the recent mass shootings.
Republicans have argued that more gun control laws won’t effectively stop mass shootings and instead punish law-abiding gun owners.
“Years of gun control laws in cities like New York and Chicago have failed,” said Rep. James Comer (R-KY), during a House committee hearing last week.
Last week, the House passed a bill banning assault weapons – a measure that is not expected to pass in the Senate.
Moulton, meantime, is hoping to get bipartisan support for the Mass Shooter Prosecution Act.
“This really should be something that’s bipartisan because everyone in America wants to prosecute these mass shooters,” said Moulton. “Everyone wants to prevent these attacks from happening.”
Civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have expressed concerns in the past about a push to create a domestic terrorism charge because of concerns about law enforcement misusing it to unfairly target communities of color.
We asked Moulton about these concerns and he said the proposal requires tracking in order to prevent abuse.
“We’ve heard those concerns and so we’ve integrated into this legislation reporting requirements from the Department of Justice to track precisely how this statute is used to make sure that it’s not misused,” said Moulton.
So far, the bill has only been introduced in the House.