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Column: Preventing Gun Violence

Since the December 14, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 27 people including 20 children and the shooter were killed, there have been 79 more school shootings. Gun rights advocates dispute the number related to schools, but that is the figure Bill Moyers reported a few weeks ago and there are certain to have been even more since his report. The total number of people killed by guns, suicide and accidental deaths between Newtown and December 2013 is 12,042. With all the fear and anguish brought on by these shootings at whatever rate they may be occurring, little has been done to address the issue in Congress or in state legislatures.

Previous mass murders have had minimal impact on laws to reduce gun violence. One exception is the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. While no one was killed, four were wounded including the President and his press secretary, Jim Brady, who was left confined to a wheelchair with slurred speech and nightmares. The efforts of Brady along with the strong leadership of his wife Sarah led to the enactment after six years, seven Congressional votes and three presidential administrations to passage of background check legislation known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. Recently I attended the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence National Summit in Washington, D.C. that had as its theme to complete the job on background checks to make them universal. Since the Brady law went into effect on February 28, 1994, background checks have stopped more than 2.1 million gun sales to prohibited purchasers including convicted felons, domestic abusers, fugitives from justice, and other dangerous individuals. But the Brady bill requires background checks only for sales by licensed firearms dealers. Sales by individuals, unlicensed dealers, or internet vendors do not require a background check. The Brady Campaign is mounting a strong lobbying effort that I support to close the loophole on background checks and require them for all gun sales. To learn more, go to www.bradycampaign.org.

As announced at their National Summit, the Brady Campaign is working in other ways to reduce gun violence. Its “Ask Campaign” in conjunction with the American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to ask if there are unlocked guns in homes where their children play. An estimated 18,000 youth are injured or killed each year due to gun violence.

This November make sure candidates you support for the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate support expansion of the Brady bill. I continue to participate along with many good friends in vigils at NRA Headquarters in Fairfax on the 14th of each month to ensure that the issue is not forgotten. I will be working to expand background checks in the legislature. Looking at other nations of the world makes us realize it is time to do all we can to prevent gun violence in America.