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Monday, December 5, 2016

It’s been two years since the tragic Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, which killed 12 people and injured 70. But although many politicians, including President Obama, vowed that the nation would finally do something to strengthen gun regulations, Congress still hasn’t passed a single gun control law since. In fact, Congress hasn’t passed any major gun reform since 1994’s Assault Weapons Ban, which expired 10 years ago.

That doesn’t mean that nothing has changed, however. Months later, after the Newtown elementary school shooting in December 2012, the president set up a task force to address the issue. He promised to send Congress proposals for strengthening gun control, and he urged lawmakers to ban assault weapons, pass a universal background check law, and limit high-capacity ammunition clips.

He then signed 23 executive orders into law in January 2013. These included reducing barriers to background checks, researching the causes of gun violence, and improving mental health services. As Forbes explained at the time, “It does not appear that any of the executive orders would have any impact on the guns people currently own – or would like to purchase – and that all proposals regarding limiting the availability of assault weapons or large ammunition magazines will be proposed for congressional action.”

In other words, Congress still needed to act. In April 2013, the Senate voted to expand the background check system, a reform that 90 percent of Americans supported. But the amendment failed to to gain the 60 votes it needed to advance, due to pressure from the National Rifle Association and the lack of support from some red-state Democrats such as North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp.

President Obama called the vote “a shameful day in Washington.”

Obama took two more executive actions in August 2013. He banned military weapons that the United States had sold or given to allies from being imported back into the country. These weapons, however, are rarely used at crime scenes.

The president also attempted to close a loophole that allows felons and anyone else who can’t legally purchase a gun to register firearms to a corporation. The new rule requires anyone associated with that corporation to go through a background check. But that rule only applies to guns regulated under the National Firearms Act, which only regulates very deadly weapons such as machine guns.

Meanwhile, Congress still hasn’t passed any major gun legislation. The only step in the right direction was in May 2014, when the House passed an amendment that would increase funding for the country’s background check system.

In June, 163 House Democrats wrote an open letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), asking him to allow a vote on legislation to address gun violence. If he doesn’t allow a vote, it could resurface as a major issue in the midterms.

Even though there hasn’t been substantive national action to reduce gun violence, some states have taken gun control into their own hands.

Colorado’s state legislature passed laws that required universal background checks and limited gun magazines to 15 rounds of ammunition. Two Democratic state senators were recalled shortly thereafter, in an effort that was heavily supported by the NRA.

New York also passed new gun control and mental health laws. Other states have improved their background check systems, limited magazine capacity, and worked to prevent the mentally ill from accessing guns.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 64 laws have strengthened state gun regulations since the Newtown shootings, and 70 laws have weakened them.

Photo: Rob Bixby via Flickr

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