The Democratic House majority has put gun violence back on the agenda for the first time in eight years, hearing testimony Wednesday on Capitol Hill from victims and gun-safety activists.
“Despite the obvious need to address the scourge of gun violence, Congress, for too long, has done virtually nothing,” said Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary committee. “But now, we begin a new chapter.”
The gun safety debate escalated after a shooter killed 17 people with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle on Feb. 14 last year in Parkland, Florida. Survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school organized the “March for Our Lives” protest in Washington, D.C. to demand gun safety. Hundreds of thousands of people around the country attended this and similar marches.
In the months following the shooting, March for Our Lives activists worked with gun safety organizations in communities plagued by gun violence.
“I’ve just been working tirelessly to share my platform ... with those marginalized communities because their voices are just as important as mine and my colleagues from Parkland,” Aalayah Eastmond, a former Stoneman Douglas student, told the committee.
“With all the different shootings and the Parkland teens, focus has become on gun violence. And I’m really happy about that,” Diane Latiker, who started Kids off the Block to help vulnerable youth in Chicago stay out of gun violence, told VOA.
“But what I really want to do is focus it on those who deal with it every day in their communities across this country. Don’t forget about the people in communities like mine who suffer with gun violence every day,” Latiker said.
Advocates for gun safety are hopeful that stricter gun control legislation will be passed now that the Democrats control the House of Representatives.
“We have the power to make a change now that Democrats have the house,” said Alexis Jade Ferguson, a student at Georgetown attending Wednesday’s hearing. “As much as I want to say that there’s hope that there’s going to change, I think this is one step in the direction,” she said.
Gun safety advocates are pushing for House Resolution 8, sometimes known as the Universal Background Checks bill, to be passed. Less than one week into taking control of the House, Democrats introduced the bill, which would require background checks on those purchasing nearly all firearms, with limited exceptions.
Nearly all — 97 percent — of Americans support universal background checks on firearm purchases, according to a 2018 Quinnipiac University poll.[
“The majority of Americans favor these common-sense gun-violence prevention measures, and we’re hopeful that that will happen this session,” said Chris Stauffer, a member of the D.C. chapter of March for Our Lives who attended Wednesday’s hearing.
“I mean that’s why we all voted in November to get a gun-sense majority into Congress,” he said.
WATCH: Gun-Safety Advocates Hopeful Their Concerns Will Be Addressed
Though the measure is likely to pass the House, it may face opposition in the Republican-majority Senate.
“We are hopeful but … nothing’s guaranteed,” said Rachel Usdan, the leader of the D.C. chapter of Moms Demand Action.
“Things are promising in the house but the Senate is another story.”
Republicans, who generally support the right of U.S. citizens to own firearms, hold 53 of the Senate's 100 seats. Gun rights advocates like the National Rifle Association argue that universal background checks don't reduce gun violence but do violate citizens' rights.