One year ago in Tucson, Arizona, our nation was struck by a tragedy that took the lives of six Americans and injured 13 others, including my colleague Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Earlier this week, I was proud to participate in a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of that terrible event and to reaffirm our commitment to stopping gun violence.
The shooting in Tucson was neither the first, nor unfortunately the last, instance of mass-gun violence in our country. It seems that far too often these days, our nation must endure another tragedy. In addition to mourning the lives cut short and consoling families and friends, society must learn from this heartbreak. It is the responsibility of Congress to examine these events and determine what can be done through our public safety laws to stop similar violence from befalling other Americans.
The gunman in the Tucson tragedy was carrying a weapon with an extended magazine capable of discharging 33 rounds in 10 seconds. Ammunition clips of this size serve no purpose for self-protection or hunting. Shortly after the Tucson shooting, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy introduced the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act (H.R. 308) to limit ammunition clips to ten rounds. I strongly support this bill to place a sensible cap on the number of rounds a gun can fire at one time. It’s a sad commentary on Congress that in the wake of a national gun-related tragedy, a reasonable step that could prevent future tragedies has not been brought to the floor for a vote.
Limiting the capacity for rapid-fire carnage is not the only constructive idea that was introduced in Congress this past year. The Fix Gun Checks Act (H.R. 1781) would strengthen the requirements for states to report prohibited persons, such as those with known mental health problems, to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This legislation also closes the most glaring hole in our gun laws, the gun show loophole, which allows prohibited individuals to purchase guns from private dealers without undergoing background checks. Separate legislation, the Stop Gun Trafficking and Strengthen Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 2554), introduced by Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Elijah Cummings, would finally add a dedicated firearms trafficking statute to U.S. law. According to the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), this bill would provide law enforcement “with the tools to keep illegal firearms from making their way into the hands of convicted felons who move guns across the southern border, utilizing a network of straw purchasers in the United States. These straw purchases act as an intermediary party for organized crime networks and the cartels by purchasing guns on their behalf.”
Instead of engaging in a bipartisan debate over reasonable measures to prevent further gun violence, the current Republican-controlled Congress – under pressure from the powerful gun lobby – is making it far easier to get guns. A string of irresponsible and outright dangerous bills have passed through the House of Representatives in the 112th Congress. Among these is the “National Right-To-Carry Reciprocity Act,” which essentially repeals state concealed carry laws. Instead of maintaining state-by-state discretion, the bill creates an ambiguous, lowest-common-denominator federal directive that would be difficult and costly to implement and could threaten the safety of our law enforcement officials. Rather than pass constructive solutions to known problems, this Congress instead has continued to weaken gun laws.
Unfortunately, the Tucson gun-related deaths represent a small fraction of the 12,000 Americans who are murdered with guns each year and less than one percent of the more than 100,000 people who are shot with a firearm. The U.S. gun homicide rate is 20 times the combined rate of other western nations. Every day, 87 people – including eight children and teens – die from gun violence. Over 280 million guns are estimated to be owned by Americans, nearly enough for every man, woman, and child in the country.
The pervasiveness of guns in our society and our country’s unparalleled rate of gun violence should give us pause. As we await the full recovery and return of Congresswoman Giffords, it is my hope that this year the U.S. House will recognize that even one gun-related death is one too many. We must not abandon our efforts to build safer communities.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.