Following the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, calls have grown for legislatures across the country to take harder stances on gun violence, especially gun control. In addition to the usual Democratic supporters of gun control, some prominent conservatives have come out in support of certain measures, including US Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump. Trump specifically spoke in favor of strengthening background checks with an emphasis on mental health. Scott has already moved to change the legal age for purchasing a gun in Florida from 18 to 21. However, the National Rifle Association will likely be against most measures presented to Congress, so it remains unclear how effective this latest legislative push will be.
Washington state seeks to abolish death penalty
A bipartisan force in the Washington state senate is moving closer to abolishing the death penalty in the Northwest state. The state senate voted to abolish the death penalty 26-22 after five Republicans crossed the aisle to join their Democratic colleagues voting in the affirmative. The Republicans largely cited their religious beliefs are the reason for their support for a ban on the death penalty but also said that fiscal inefficiencies, the commonality of exonerations and an unequal application of the law are also important factors in their decision. Despite other measures being introduced in previous year to ban the death penalty, none of them have made it as far as this one. The issue now moves to the Washington Statehouse, which houses 50 Democrats and 48 Republicans.
Evangelical icon Billy Graham passes away
One of the most prominent evangelists of the 20th century and spiritual advisor to several presidents has passed away. The Rev. Billy Graham passed away on Feb. 21 at the age of 99 after years of fighting several illnesses. Graham was renowned for spearheading the evangelical movement in the United States. He came to prominence in the mid-1940s after taking over a Christian radio show in the Chicago area. From there, Graham began holding “Crusades for Christ” across the country and around the world, touching the lives of billions of people. Graham became close to several leaders, including various U.S. presidents and Pope John Paul II, and continued to be influential after ceasing public ministry. Washington lawmakers announced that Graham’s body will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda, just the fourth private citizen to receive the honor.
Olympics put public spotlight on political tension
The Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, came to a close Sunday after two weeks of constant political and athletic tension. Team USA came away with just 23 medals, its worst showing since the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan, when it won only 13. By comparison, Norway won 39 total medals. However, Team USA still pulled off a few key victories, winning gold in events such as women’s ice hockey and men’s curling. There was a significant political cloud over the Games, given North Korea’s participation in a joint Olympic team with South Korea and questions about the impact it would have on North Korea-US relations. While there were a few tense moments between leaders of the two countries, including US Vice President Mike Pence, politics did not impeded the Games from going on and some saw the games as a turning point in relations between the two countries.
Security Council calls for ceasefire in Syrian civil war
In a unanimous decision on Saturday, the United Nations Security Council voted in favor of a 30-day cease-fire in Syria’s civil war. This resolution comes after days of fighting by the Syrian government left hundreds of civilians dead. The cease-fire would allow humanitarian aid to reach the affected area of Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, and would give civilians still there to be safely evacuated. Olof Skoog, the Swedish ambassador to the United Nation, co-sponsored the resolution with the Kuwaiti ambassador and said that it is by no means a peace deal for Syria, but that “its aim is purely humanitarian.” According to the UN Refugee Agency, an estimate of more than 350,000 civilians still live in the affected area.
China term limits
The Chinese Communist Party has brought forth a proposal that would allow the country’s presidents to hold more than two consecutive five-year terms. The new proposal would replace the current provision in the constitution where both the president and vice president are only allowed to serve two consecutive terms. Should the amendment be approved by the National People’s Congress, it would open the door for current President Xi Jinping to serve indefinitely. Xi assumed the position in 2013 and is still in his first term. According to CNN, some experts question whether such a move is necessary because the Chinese presidency is largely honorary and Xi could remain in power by maintaining his position as General Secretary of the Communist Party, which is the source of all his power. The National People’s Congress will meet in March to make a decision on the matter.