Harvard Affiliates, Experts React with Measured Hope to Bipartisan Gun Safety Deal Following Nationwide Rallies


Just a day after thousands of people across the United States rallied for stronger federal and state action on gun control, a group of 20 senators announced a bipartisan deal to curb gun violence Sunday.

Harvard affiliates, many of whom attended and organized the Saturday rallies, reacted to the news with surprise and hope — but say the path to sweeping gun violence reform is still long.

With lead negotiators including Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), the deal includes provisions for increased investment in youth and family mental health services, as well as resources for “red-flag laws” that help prevent individuals who pose a threat to others and themselves from accessing weapons.

“Our plan increases mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons,” the senators wrote in a joint statement, which touted the deal as a “commonsense, bipartisan” effort.


“Most importantly, our plan saves lives while also protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans,” they added in the statement.

Though many Harvard students said the deal’s provisions were modest, they noted the significance of the bipartisan effort. March for Our Lives co-founder David M. Hogg ’23 said though more needs to be done, the deal marks a step forward.

“It’s more than has happened in pretty much any student at Harvard’s lifetimes that are under 30,” he said. “So it’s pretty significant.”

Many found certain provisions in the deal — such as offering states resources to enact “red flag” laws and funding mental health resources — reason for hope.

Ruth Zakarin, the executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, lauded the deal’s provision for closing the “boyfriend loophole.” The deal would extend a law preventing domestic abusers from owning guns to include abusers who do not live with their victims, do not have children with them, or are not married to them.

Zakarin, who has worked to help people affected by domestic violence, said survivors and activists have long sought after the provision.

“I know that there’s been a lot of effort and a lot of discussion about the importance of closing the boyfriend loophole to allow for more protections for survivors who are in dating relationships with their abusive partners,” she said. “So to see that move forward is a big step.”

Still, Zakarin and many Harvard affiliates said they felt the deal was missing stricter gun control measures — such as instating universal background checks and banning semi-automatic weapons, measures already enforced in Massachusetts.

Elizabeth C. “Liz” Hoveland ’22, who attended the Boston march Saturday, said they were disappointed the deal did not include universal background checks. They added that they would have liked to see the deal raise the minimum age of gun ownership to 21.

“I’m heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken, that they didn’t call to expand background checks,” they said. “It seems like bare minimum.”

Madeline J. Ranalli ’24, who helped found the Boston March for Our Lives chapter, said that though she was initially “excited” about the deal, she believes some of its provisions may promote practices that increase policing in schools and actively harm students of color.

“Unfortunately, there’s definitely a flavor to this of ‘We’re going to combat shootings and gun violence with more surveillance, more police presence,’ which studies have shown don’t lead to stopping mass shootings,” she said. “They just lead to disproportionate discipline of students of color.”

RuQuan S. Brown ’24, who spoke at the Washington, D.C., March for Our Lives rally, also urged lawmakers to consider the potential impact the provisions put forth in the deal could have on Black and Brown people and poor people.

The bipartisan deal has coincided with state legislative action that some argue may put more people at risk. Ranalli noted that on Monday, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed into law a bill that allows teachers to carry guns in school after no more than 24 hours of training and eight hours of annual training.

Though the Senate deal has not yet been finalized, David C. King, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School, said he believes the potential bill will be passed as long as both sides stick to the framework.

Moreover, King said the compromises the senators made in the deal are “the only political way to actually get things done.”

“It’s not necessarily beautiful policymaking or the ideal solution, but it is a good way of getting the votes together to get to the next stage of the game,” he said.

Ranalli said the deal’s bipartisan support is not as historic as some believed, noting that of the 10 Republican senators backing the deal, four are not running for reelection, five will not face off in the ballot box for another four years, and one cannot run for reelection until 2024.

“Ultimately, this was not as big of a display of courage as I think a lot of people hoped it would be,” she said. “A lot of Republicans are just unwilling to make a compromise like that because it doesn’t help their reelection chances.”

Zakarin, whose advocacy work focuses on Massachusetts, said the laws in one area of the country can still affect the safety of those in others.

“Massachusetts doesn’t exist in a bubble, so weaker gun laws and gun violence that happen in other states still impact the safety of residents in the Commonwealth,” she said. “We see the Massachusetts model as the floor, not the ceiling, and we need for other states nationally to get on board with this model to keep folks across the country safe, but to also impact the safety of people here in the Commonwealth.”

—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.

—Staff writer Meimei Xu can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MeimeiXu7.