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Buffalo victim’s son urges Congress: ‘What are you doing?’

WASHINGTON – The son of Ruth Whitfield, an 86-year-old woman who was killed when a gunman opened fire in a racist attack on black shoppers in Buffalo, New York, urged Congress on Tuesday to fight “white cancer.” Supremacy” and the nationwide epidemic of gun violence.

Garnell Whitfield Jr.’s emotional testimony comes as lawmakers work feverishly to reach a bipartisan agreement on gun safety measures following back-to-back mass shootings. Ten days after the death of his mother and nine others in New York, another 18-year-old gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 schoolchildren and two teachers.

“What are you doing? You were elected to protect us,” Whitfield Jr. told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Is there nothing you are personally willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires?” he has asked. “If there is nothing, respectfully, senators … you should relinquish your positions of authority and influence to others who are willing to take the lead on this matter.”

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The hearing is the first of two this week as the families of victims and survivors of the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings appear at public hearings and events on Capitol Hill to highlight the human toll of American gun violence and urge Congress to act .

Pushing for a deal, President Joe Biden met Tuesday with Senator Chris Murphy, a key Democratic negotiator who has spent most of his career trying to stem the nation’s mass shooting scourge after the heartbreaking slaughter of 20 children at his elementary school were home state of Connecticut a decade ago.

“Enough,” Biden said last week in a televised address urging Congress to act.

On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee is expected to hear from other victims’ families and from fourth-grader Miah Cerrillo, who caught the attention of Americans after she described covering herself in the blood of her dead classmate and pretending to be dead survive the killing spree in Uvalde.

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Tuesday’s Senate hearing focused squarely on white supremacist ideology, which authorities say an 18-year-old gunman in military gear drove for hours into a mostly black Buffalo neighborhood and live-streamed his violent killing spree. The shooting killed 10 people and injured several others.

“My mother’s life mattered,” Whitfield said. “Your actions here will tell us if and how much it was important to you.”

Senators have met privately in a small bipartisan group led by Murphy and Republican Senator John Cornyn, trying to negotiate a compromise that could actually become law.

But lawmakers have been here before—unable to pass substantive gun safety legislation for decades in the face of fierce objections from Republicans in Congress, some conservative Democrats, and fierce lobbying from gun owners and the National Rifle Association. No major legislation has come into force since the 1994 ban on assault weapons, which has since expired.

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The package under discussion is a far cry from the sweeping measures to ban assault weapons or universal background checks, which are popular with Americans and advocated by gun safety groups but opposed by Republicans.

Instead, senators are focused on incremental policy changes through a system that would send funds and other incentives to states to strengthen campus security, provide more mental health services for young people, and potentially encourage states to enact legislation keep firearms out of the hands of people who would cause harm.

“I’m optimistic we can get 60+ votes — but the question is what that package looks like,” Cornyn told reporters as lawmakers returned to the city Monday after a week-long hiatus.

Cornyn was referring to the 60-vote threshold required in the 50-50 Senate to advance legislation beyond a filibuster that can block most bills.

The Texas senator said he is preparing to update his peers on the status of the negotiations at their weekly Senate luncheon on Tuesday. But he warned Democrats against rushing the process, saying “arbitrary deadlines” are no help in the talks.

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While senators hesitate to raise the minimum gun purchase age from 18 to 21, as some states have done, an alternative idea is opening up juvenile offender records to look for trouble spots before allowing adults to buy guns .

Murphy said Cornyn raised a legitimate concern that law enforcement often doesn’t have access to juvenile records when making a background check decision.

“This clearly seems like something we should fix and address,” Murphy said. “It’s certainly part of our conversations. It’s complicated because different states have different rules when it comes to juvenile files.”

The proposals are gaining traction but also raising concerns among Democrats and some interest groups, who are urging senators to do more, and faster, to stem the tide of mass shootings across the country.

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Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/07/son-of-buffalo-victim-pushes-congress-what-are-you-doing/ Buffalo victim’s son urges Congress: ‘What are you doing?’

Sarah Y. Kim

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