As It Happens·Q&A

Bipartisan deal a first step in the long fight to end U.S. gun violence, says advocate

On Sunday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators announced a framework for potential new legislation on gun safety. Although many criticize the proposal as lacking tougher measures, advocate Mariah Cooley says this is a vital first step toward better gun safety laws in the country.

Proposal falls short on tough measures, but it's important to keep momentum: March for Our Lives member

A young demonstrator holds a placard while taking part in the March for Our Lives, one of a series of nationwide protests against gun violence, in Washington, D.C. On Sunday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators announced a framework for potential new legislation on gun safety. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Story Transcript

Mariah Cooley felt overwhelmed with emotion when she heard that a deal on proposed gun safety measures had been reached by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators. 

"This is the first thing that we have been able to agree on in 30 years," said Cooley, who is a board member of March for Our Lives, a youth-led movement to end gun violence that was created after the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. 

On Sunday, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators announced a framework for potential new legislation on gun safety. The proposal includes more extensive background checks for potential gun owners, state red-flag laws, and bolstered efforts to improve school safety and mental health programs.

The proposed law changes come on the heels of the deadly shootings at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., and in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, as well as other mass gun killings.

It's unclear how long it would take to finalize the agreement. The proposal also falls short of tougher steps to prevent gun violence sought by President Joe Biden and many Democrats. But Cooley told As It Happens guest host Catherine Cullen that it's important to keep the momentum going to implement lasting changes in U.S. gun laws. Here is part of their conversation.

Mariah, what did you think when you heard that this group of senators had reached a deal on at least some gun control measures? 

I felt amazing and I felt overwhelmed with emotions. I haven't seen anything like this ever in my lifetime, and I've been fighting in this movement for the past four to five years after losing my cousin due to gun violence. So when I saw that, finally, Republicans and Democrats across the aisle could come together to get something done, I felt amazed in knowing that this is the first step to many steps to work to end gun violence.

I think a lot of people are saying, 'Well, this is not nearly as far as a lot of advocates would have liked to go.' What do you say to them? 

I say that it's one step at a time. And as long as we are doing something in order to save lives, then I consider that a win. Does the movement end here? No. We still have so many comprehensive gun violence prevention bills that we need to pass. However, this is the first thing that we have been able to agree on in 30 years. So I think we all need to capitalize off this moment to make sure that we have something done in order to save American lives.

Gun control advocates participate in the protest near the Washington Monument on the National Mall on Saturday, June 11. March For Our Lives board member Mariah Cooley says the new proposal of gun safety laws is the first step in the fight to end gun violence in the U.S. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

How do you think this is going to save lives? What parts of [the proposal] do you think are going to make the biggest difference? 

I think the red-flag laws being implemented; raising the age from 18 to 21 is something else that will be making sure that these teenage boys can't go buy a gun and then immediately use it in elementary and middle schools or in grocery stores. Those are just two examples of ways that this can be improved, as well as having stricter background checks in some capacity is something that we really appreciate, as well as gun trafficking laws.

What's the most important thing that's missing from this potential legislation?

We're still fighting for universal background checks. And this is something that isn't necessarily stated in the bill, such as the banning of AR-15. However, you know, although these things may be missing in the bill, that doesn't mean that they're completely off the table and that something that can still be advocated for afterwards.

You've been working on this issue for four or five years now. What have those four or five years taught you about how hard it is to get change when it comes to gun control legislation? 

In order to fight in this movement, you need to have a lot of grit and tenacity. It's a hard movement to fight in, and especially as someone who is a gun violence prevention survivor. 

What you'll learn in this movement is that you have to keep the passion, because if you lose the passion, you lose the momentum, then you'll lose the movement and people will forget about it.

I've learnt that over time, it means meeting people where they are, finding what we can agree on and getting to the point where we are today, where we're finally hopefully going to see something pass in the Senate that everyone can agree on.

The work will not end until gun violence is no more.- Mariah Cooley, gun violence prevention activist 

You expressed some real hope and optimism about what this legislation could do. How convinced are you that it's actually going to become real? I mean, we've seen this before, right? I think of the legislation after the Parkland shooting that there was so much hope from gun control advocates around that  and things just fell apart. 

We do believe that this time will be different. We have met with so many gun owners, previous people within the NRA, Democrats, Republicans, everyone across the aisle to figure out what we can agree on. And in order to keep fighting [in] this movement, you have to have that optimism and hope — because the second you stop fighting, we risk another mass shooting.

We know there [is] just an incredible number of guns in America. How much more work do you think you have to really bring about the kind of change you're envisioning? 

The work will not end until gun violence is no more. It's hard to say how much more work. It just depends on, you know, for the people that we voted in Congress, for them to do their jobs. And if they don't do their job, we're going to vote them out and replace them with people who will do their job and vote in favour of their constituency and vote in favour of keeping America alive. So we'll put in as much work as it takes in order to end this epidemic.


Written by Olsy Sorokina with files from CBC News. Interview with Mariah Cooley produced by Kate Swoger.

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