Commentary: Congress Must Act to Stem Gun Violence Epidemic

Commentary: Congress Must Act to Stem Gun Violence Epidemic

Last week, America woke to what has become an all-too-common nightmare. A man driven by hate and armed with assault weapons carried out our nation’s worst mass shooting. In its aftermath 49 were dead, 53 injured, and communities across our country were left violated, vulnerable and wondering how this could happen again?

It’s a scene repeated too often in our country. 49 murdered in Orlando. In December, 14 were killed in San Bernardino. A year ago, nine were murdered during Bible study in South Carolina. Twenty innocent children and six teachers were gunned down inside a school at Sandy Hook. Thirty-three were lost at Virginia Tech — including five bright, young, talented students from our community. Twelve were killed in an Aurora movie theater. The list goes on.

We must have an honest conversation about the hate that is brewing. This time a man stole the lives of 49 people, many of whom identified as LGBT, and all of whom were celebrating and supporting inclusion, progress, and freedom. The attacker’s homophobic intent has been lost in the media coverage. Some have painted this as an issue of terror, but we must be reminded that so much of the blood shed to gun violence has been at the hands of those who claim no allegiance to Islam or ISIS. America’s dark history of mass killings has come from problems of mental illness to proclamations of white supremacy, and it’s a fallacy to attribute the continuous violence to “Radical Islam.”

In the wake of these almost weekly tragedies, the response from Congress is as predictable as it is disappointing. We offer our thoughts and prayers. We hold a moment of silence; anything to distract from the central cause, and common instrument, of these crimes. How many more must die before Congress acts?

This is a problem for which there are solutions. Expand universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Reinstate the assault weapons ban. Close the gun show loophole.

But the gun lobby and the Republican Majority it controls stand in the way of each of these reforms. For example, the NRA opposes expanded background checks for gun purchases even though majorities of gun owners and NRA members support them. The NRA even opposes the CDC funding for research on gun violence and its effect on public health despite the fact that more than 30,000 people die in gun related deaths annually.

In 1994, Congress passed the Assault Weapons Ban, restricting certain types of weapons and capping the size of ammunition magazines. However, in the time since the ban has been allowed to lapse, these weapons of war have become a common tool for the mayhem unleashed in these mass shootings. Do I think an assault weapons ban would prevent all crimes? Of course not; but certainly our Founding Fathers did not envision AR-15 semi-automatic rifles when they drafted the Second Amendment.

In a shocking video, Virginia Tech survivor Colin Goddard demonstrated just how easy it is to skirt background checks. Without even a photo ID or background check, Goddard was able to purchase an AK-47. Closing the gun show loophole, which allows private dealers to forego background checks required of licensed dealers, would stem the flow of illegal weapons.

When we marked the three-year anniversary of Sandy Hook, I said if more politicians viewed the safety of the American people as more important than pleasing the NRA, reason would prevail and the club of gun violence victims and their families would not continue its unrelenting growth. Instead, our ever-more-frequent moments of silence and inaction speak volumes.