Gun violence is a public health crisis. The GOP has a plan to make it much, much worse.

Gun Rights

Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, issued a stark warning Tuesday: Firearm violence is a public health crisis that the country must address immediately. It’s the first time that America’s leading public health body has focused on gun violence and the effects that the surge in deaths has taken on the nation’s physical and mental health.

If the Republican proposal is passed into law, it will make the crisis that Murthy warned about much, much worse.

It just so happened that Murthy’s announcement came the same day that Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee released the proposed text of a spending bill that covers, among other things, the Justice Department’s annual funding. While the surgeon general’s advisory was developed to save lives, the Republican-drafted bill aims to allow as many guns in as many hands as possible. If the Republican proposal is passed into law, it will make the crisis that Murthy warned about much, much worse.

The surgeon general’s 40-page advisory is first and foremost focused on the medical harm that the surge in gun-related violence has caused over the last 20 years. Among its most alarming data, firearms are the leading cause of death for children and adolescents: Nearly 60% of Americans say they are concerned about a loved one’s being a victim of firearm violence somewhere between “sometimes” and “every day,” and half of 14- to 17-year-olds worry about school shootings, deeply affecting their mental health.

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Murthy recommends several potential mitigation efforts, including risk-reduction policies like “treating firearms like other consumer products, including requiring safety testing or safety features,” and “implementing universal background checks and expanding purchaser licensing laws.”

The bill from the Republicans on the Appropriations commerce, justice and science subcommittee would do none of these things. In fact, the committee’s GOP leadership is proud that their proposal would do the exact opposite, “adding new provisions that strengthen Second Amendment protections.”

The bill would cut funding allocated to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and severely restrict how the money it does receive can be used. The most sweeping of the “riders” attached to the bill would straight up ban ATF from using its appropriations to “implement, administer, apply, enforce, or carry out any [ATF] regulation” that has been issued or finalized since President Joe Biden’s first full day in office. That would include the rule that Biden announced in April that would finally close the so-called gun show loophole that allows the private purchase of firearms without a background check.

If these sweeping restrictions weren’t enough, the bill also specifically takes aim at many of Biden’s efforts to reduce gun violence. No money would be allowed to be spent on implementing last year’s Executive Order 14092, which instructs his Cabinet to implement 2022’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and double down on the enforcement of other gun safety laws. A final rule from ATF to curb the availability of so-called ghost guns — unregistered firearms assembled from kits at home — would be blocked from being funded while the Supreme Court decides the rule’s fate. The same goes for a rule that would require pistols modified with stabilizing braces to face the same regulations as short-barreled rifles.

Other commonsense programs to bring down gun violence would be defunded, as well. Zero dollars would be able to go toward funding any state or local “red flag or extreme risk protection order laws,” which allow courts to have law enforcement remove guns from the homes of people who are dangers to themselves or others. The bill would even block federal funding for gun buyback programs, which have been proven effective and reduced the number of guns on the street.

With this bill, the GOP is showing that even enforcing the laws currently on the books is a bridge too far for it now.

For years, gun advocates have insisted that no new gun laws are needed. All the government had to do was “enforce the thousands of gun laws that are currently on the books,” former National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre told the Senate in 2013. “America does not have a shortage of gun laws,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., wrote this year, “we have a shortage of enforcement.” With this bill, the GOP is showing that even enforcing the laws currently on the books is a bridge too far for it now.

The good news is that many of these provisions won’t manage to get through Senate Democrats, let alone Biden’s veto. As it stands, the bill is more in line with the swath of conservative wish lists disguised as spending bills that House Republicans have struggled to unite around since taking control of the chamber. Given their microscopic majority in the House, the odds that all GOP members would agree to some of the more extreme provisions in an election year seem slim.

But the fight over next year’s spending is expected to drag on after the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30. Much more likely is that current spending will remain in place until a lame duck session, at which point the two sides will see how things have shaken out and what leverage there is to pass something ahead of the next Congress’ being seated in January. Should Republicans manage to reclaim the White House and complete control of Congress, the bill could wind up being a chilling template for next year’s Congress.

“Firearm violence is an urgent public health crisis that has led to loss of life, unimaginable pain, and profound grief for far too many Americans,” Surgeon General Murthy said in a statement Tuesday. Republicans reject this premise; they believe this horrible price is well worth paying. Given the chance to enact their will, the solutions that Murthy has offered would be fully cast to the wayside, instead ushering in an even deadlier era of preventable bloodshed.

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