Last month, the Congressional Black Caucus assembled on the steps of the U.S. Capitol with a declaration: When it comes to gun violence and mass shootings, “thoughts and prayers are not enough.” As fellow members spoke, Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., stood alongside colleagues in solidarity, her face a study in anguish.
With deadly mass shootings in Buffalo, New York; Uvalde, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and beyond in recent days, the country has been here before. So has the congresswoman. And for her, the issue is deeply personal.
McBath lost her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, after a man complaining about loud music opened fire on a car of teens at a Jacksonville, Florida, gas station in 2012.
At a House Judiciary Committee hearing about gun violence measures Thursday, she shared her still-palpable grief. “Was my child afraid? Did he feel pain as the bullets ripped through his skin? How long did it take him to die? Was it quick, or did he suffer?”
The life-altering loss of her son turned the former flight attendant into an advocate, one who subsequently assumed public roles with Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, McBath joined fellow Black mothers who’ve lost children to violence as one of the Mothers of the Movement.
Following the mass shooting that killed 17 high school students in Parkland, Florida, she was encouraged to run for Congress. Up against a Republican incumbent, the first-time Democratic candidate won in the 2018 midterms and was sworn into Congress in 2019.
Last month McBath won her primary in Georgia’s 7th Congressional District on the same night as the massacre in Uvalde.
“Across the country, from Uvalde to Sandy Hook, from Charleston to Buffalo, the violence that took my son is being replayed with casual callousness and despicable frequency,” she said in her victory speech. “And the children who survive these shootings will now live the rest of their lives with the trauma that only stepping over a friend covered in blood could ever bring.
“We are better than this. We have to be better than this. We cannot be the only nation where our children are torn apart on Tuesday and their deaths are gone from the news cycle by Wednesday.”
Today, McBath fights for federal reforms as one of the vice chairs of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
“It’s a sucker punch to my stomach every time I learn there’s another phone call” to notify someone that their loved one will never come home, she later told NBC News. “The phone call that brings you to your knees when the desperation will not let you stand. That leaves you gasping for air when the agony will not let you breathe. …
“Are we OK with this as a nation?” she continued. “Is this the status quo that we all accept?”
That question is being debated in Congress this week as members return from recess. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., confirmed to NBC News that lawmakers will consider multiple gun violence prevention proposals sponsored by McBath and other members this week.
The legislation is as varied as McBath’s “red flag” bill — which would prevent those who may be dangers to themselves or others from legally possessing firearms — and the Protecting Our Kids Act, a comprehensive package of gun violence prevention proposals. Collectively, the bills would make so-called ghost guns illegal to possess or manufacture, ban high-capacity magazines and bump stocks, crack down on gun trafficking, raise the legal age to purchase semi-automatic weapons and promote safe gun storage. On Thursday, McBath and fellow Democrats on the Judiciary Committee advanced the Kids Act to the House floor by a vote of 25-19 along party lines; all of the committee’s Republican members voted against it.
President Joe Biden championed some of these measures in a recent prime-time public address.
Hoyer termed the proposed legislation “the most serious action in a generation to reduce crime and protect Americans’ lives and safety.”
“When dozens of elementary-school children are gunned-down in a matter of minutes in their classroom, when Americans are afraid to walk down the streets of their neighborhoods because of near-daily shootings, something is fundamentally wrong,” he said in a statement. “This moment demands change.”
A vote for McBath’s bill could come as soon as Thursday, congressional aides told NBC News.
“Red flag laws work to prevent school and mass shootings,” McBath said. “They work to keep those who may be contemplating suicide from accessing a weapon. They can be used to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them.”
More than a dozen states and Washington, D.C., have enacted extreme risk laws to allow law enforcement adequate time to respond to people who have exhibited warning signs.
The legislation has been supported by groups that include: Everytown for Gun Safety, March for Our Lives, Giffords, Moms Demand Action, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the Newtown Action Alliance, States United to Prevent Gun Violence and Brady United Against Gun Violence.
Brady’s president, Kris Brown, lamented that tens of thousands of “Americans have died from gun violence” specifically since the House passed two safety measures last year.
HR 8, a bipartisan bill that would expand on existing background check procedures to apply to private sales, was one of them. McBath and Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Robin Kelly, D-Ill., are among the members of the Congressional Black Caucus who were initial co-sponsors.
The other, HR 1446, was introduced by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., a long-standing Black Caucus member. The bill would close the “Charleston loophole,” which refers to the ability of the man who gunned down members of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, to acquire a gun before authorities could complete a background check.
Despite the House votes and polls that indicate that the majority of Americans say they support background checks, the Senate has yet to take up the bills. However, a small bipartisan group is working on legislation that has yet to be unveiled.
Brady United Against Gun Violence praised Biden for using his bully pulpit but urged him to go even further and take additional actions. It called upon the White House to designate gun violence a public health emergency and create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention to coordinate a whole-of-government response to the crisis.
McBath said she remains hopeful that in this moment of grief, sadness and even outrage, her legislation can garner broad support from both sides of the aisle. She pointed out that the bill was previously introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and reportedly had support from then-President Donald Trump and other Senate Republicans.
“We can absolutely get this done. Democrats and Republicans across the country want to get this done,” she said. “Americans know we must do more to help keep our children alive.”