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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, led a group of lawmakers in introducing a bill Wednesday that would bar those convicted of violent misdemeanor hate crimes from obtaining guns.
The bill, dubbed the Disarm Hate Act, comes four years after a gunman shot and killed 23 people in an El Paso Walmart in Escobar’s district. The gunman later pleaded guilty to hate crimes, having posted racist screeds in white supremacist forums shortly before the attack. It remains the deadliest hate crime against Latinos in modern U.S. history.
The bill mirrors language used to close the “boyfriend loophole” in last year’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the first major gun safety legislation to be signed into law in decades. That bill enhanced a law that barred those convicted of domestic violence from obtaining guns to include dating relationships – previously the abuser was subject to the law if they are married to or live with or have a child with the victim.
The other lawmakers introducing the Disarm Hate Act have also had hate-motivated mass shootings in their states or districts, including the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo, a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Oregon and an Asian American-run spa in Atlanta.
“Hate and bigotry, coupled with easy access to weapons of war, make for a terrifying and deadly combination,” Escobar said in a statement. “Too many communities - including my own - know the consequences all too well.”
Former U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-Rhode Island, and Casey previously introduced a prior version of the bill in 2021 citing the shootings at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and at the Pulse nightclub.
Other lawmakers who joined in introducing the current bill include Reps. Maxwell Frost of Florida, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Brian Higgins of New York, John Garamendi of California, Nikema Williams of Georgia, Summer Lee of Pennsylvania and Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania.
The bill does not currently have any Republican support, though Escobar’s office has reached out to Republican members who represent districts that have had hate-motivated mass shootings. Without any Republicans onboard, the bill faces steep odds, particularly as the Republican-controlled House remains bogged down with fights to keep the government funded and an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden.
Republican leadership on the last major gun safety legislation was crucial to its success. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, helped shepherd the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to passage following the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde last year. The bill didn’t include several of Democrats’ top gun safety priorities, including universal background checks and bans on semiautomatic weapons.
In addition to addressing the “boyfriend loophole,” that bill included more extensive background checks for gun buyers under 21, grants for states to improve red flag laws and crisis intervention and clarified who qualified as a licensed gun dealer.
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