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The Briefing: On mass shootings, why doesn't Congress talk?

WASHINGTON – Discussing mass shootings last week, Rep. Brian Higgins offered a common-sense suggestion that Congress has not been willing to follow for years.

Let's talk about the issue, Higgins said. And let's listen to the experts.

"We need bipartisan congressional hearings, including law enforcement, to do a comprehensive examination of this issue," said Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat. "On this issue, the law enforcement community of America has not been listened to enough."

It doesn't seem that radical an idea for Congress to hold hearings on a problem that's claiming dozens of lives annually, but in fact, the lawmakers who run congressional hearings have avoided the issue of mass shootings for years.

Sure, there have been hearings on specific pieces of legislation – if they happen to examine the rights of gun owners. But the last time a congressional committee delved deep into mass shootings, seeking testimony from experts with a variety of points of view, was when the Senate Judiciary Committee did just that in January 2013.

That's five years and two months ago, 25 mass shootings ago, 300 lives ago.

Which is why some Republicans, such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, agree with Higgins that it's time for Congress to take a close look at mass shootings.

"Congress needs to be holding hearings on these issues and we’ve seen lots of discussion on this every time we’ve had an incident,” DeVos said in a radio interview with conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt. “We need to have a conversation at the level where lawmakers can actually impact the future.”

So what could lawmakers talk about at such hearings?

For starters, there's this new Rand Corp. report, which offers a detailed look at what good some gun control proposals would – and would not – do.

The Rand report goes far beyond the mass shootings issue to examine other forms of gun violence, such as suicides.

The report at least partly fills the void left by the National Institute of Justice, which, under the Trump administration, has let lapse its research into gun violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not funded gun violence research since the GOP-led Congress in 1996 threatened to stop funding the CDC over the matter.

Beyond the research and beyond the never-ending back-and-forth on background checks and mental health, there are plenty of of ideas that could be explored in congressional hearings.

Many of these ideas are rooted in the idea that an assault weapons ban appears to be a non-starter. And most aim to stem gun violence without taking away anybody's Second Amendment rights.

More on those ideas in this space tomorrow.

With plenty of ideas out there, Higgins – a onetime gun rights supporter who has turned toward gun control in recent years – thinks Congress should take a look at them.

"We have a lot of valuable information we can look at to come up with a comprehensive, effective, common-sense approach to this problem," he said.

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