Not long before the deadly shootings in the Atlanta area sowed fear and anger in the Asian American communities. Across the country, police say the attacker made a legal purchase: a 9mm pistol.
In a few hours, they say, he had killed eight people., seven of them women and six of Asian descent, in an uproar directed at massage companies.
If Georgia had asked him to wait before getting a gun, lawmakers and advocates say, he may not have acted on impulse.
“It’s very fast. You walk in, fill out the paperwork, get your background check and come out with a gun, ”said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “If you are in a state of crisis, personal crisis, you can do a lot of damage pretty quickly.”
The purchase was a normal transaction at Big Woods Goods, a store north of Atlanta that complies with federal background check laws and is cooperating with police, said Matt Kilgo, an attorney for the store.
“There is no indication that something is wrong,” he said.
The vast majority of states are like Georgia, allowing shoppers to walk out of a store with a firearm after a background check that can sometimes take minutes. Waiting periods are required in just 10 states and the District of Columbia, although several states are considering legislating this year to enforce them.
Advocates of gun control say that requiring a window of even a couple of days between buying a gun and taking possession can allow more time for background checks and create a “cool-down” period for people who are considering hurting themselves or another person. Studies suggest that waiting periods can help reduce firearm suicide rates by up to 11% and firearm homicides by about 17%, according to the Giffords Center.
Georgia Democrats plan to introduce legislation that would require people to wait five days between purchasing a gun and obtaining it, said Rep. David Wilkerson, who is the whip of the minority in the state House.
“I think a waiting period makes sense,” he said.
An analysis of 2020 by Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank, also found that the research linked waiting periods to declining suicide and homicide rates, but determined that the effect on mass shootings was inconclusive because the size of the sample was too small.
California has one of the longest waiting periods in the country – 10 days. That didn’t stop more than 1.1 million people from buying guns last year, which was just shy of the record number sold in 2016. Meanwhile, gun sales across the country rose to record levels last year in the middle. of the uncertainty related to the pandemic.
In that context, legislators in at least four states (Arizona, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont) have proposed creating or extending waiting periods.
New gun laws won’t solve deep-rooted problems like racism, misogyny and violencesaid Seo Yoon “Yoonie” Yang, leader of Students Demand Action, a gun violence prevention group. But they can help keep guns out of the reach of people who would do harm in the meantime, he said.
“The legislation is practical. Research shows it works, ”he said. “It is a change that can happen efficiently and quickly.”
In Colorado, Democratic State Representative Tom Sullivan ran for office after his son, Alex, was killed along with 11 other people when a gunman opened fire at an Aurora movie theater eight years ago. Sullivan said he hopes a waiting period in the legislation he plans to sponsor can help curb domestic violence and suicide.
“In Atlanta, imagine if this guy’s parents or someone else were notified that he was trying to get a firearm. Maybe they could have helped, ”he said. “It wouldn’t have hurt anyone to wait… let him breathe for a while. If there is a problem, let it surface, we will fix it. “
Gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, oppose waiting periods. The group points to federal firearms tracing data from 2018 which shows that the average time between the first retail sale of a weapon and participation in a crime was almost nine years. They also argue that waiting periods create a delay for people buying legally, while illegal arms transfers are unaffected.
“A delayed right is a denied right,” said Second Amendment Foundation founder Alan Gottlieb.
Legislation on gun control is also making its way through Congress. The Senate is expected to consider a bill to expand the background check, but it faces a tough road: Democrats would need at least 10 Republican votes to pass it. While the House passed two bills to strengthen controls this month, Congress has not passed any major gun control laws since the mid-1990s.
In Georgia, the Republican-controlled Legislature may resist new firearms laws before it ends its activity at the end of the month. But Wilkerson pointed to recent long-sought victories that once seemed unlikely, including the passage of a hate crimes law. and the likely repeal of a citizen’s arrest law a year after the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man chased by armed white men while running.
“You are going to meet resistance. It doesn’t mean you don’t try, ”Wilkerson said. “In tragedy, sometimes we can move forward. This may be the opportunity to see another tragedy and do something about it. “
Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington; Don Thompson in Sacramento, California; and Jim Anderson in Denver contributed to this story.