Last Friday, our nation was again confronted with a another terrifying, violent tragedy. The community of Newtown, Connecticut lost 20 children and 6 adults at the hands of a disturbed young man wielding a slew of powerful guns. In the wake of the massacre, parents across the country gave their children an extra hug as we were reminded once again of the fragility of human life.
Although this tragedy was unusual in its targeting of our youngest, most innocent children and their brave and loving teachers, Americans – and certainly Virginians – are not strangers to violent mass-attacks. And the tragic deaths of the 26 innocent are just a fraction of the gun deaths our nation sees annually. Each year, approximately 100,000 people in America are shot with a gun, and over 10,000 are murdered using a firearm. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, in 2008 and 2009, 5,740 children — “one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 55 every week for two years” — were killed by guns.
There may have been few changes in law that could have stopped the crazed actions of one man intent on mayhem in Newtown. But once the grief and pain has subsided, as a legislative body, and as a people, we must take action to improve our laws to reduce the level of gun violence in our country. When there are nearly enough guns in America for every man, woman, and child, the least we can do is ensure we are not putting firearms in the hands of individuals with mental illnesses or dangerous criminal records.
I have written numerous times in this newspaper over the past years calling for Congress to enact sensible gun control. Far from radical proposals, many of these reforms are supported by a majority of Nation Rifle Association (NRA) members, including closing the gun show loophole and requiring gun owners to report to police lost or stolen guns.
For instance, according to a poll by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, 74 percent of NRA members and 87 percent of non-NRA gun owners support requiring criminal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun. Background checks on gun purchasers are proven to be effective, blocking an estimated two million attempts by high-risk people to buy a gun since 1994. But federal law includes an enormous loophole, allowing unlicensed sellers at gun shows to sell weapons without performing a background check on the buyer. Undercover investigations at gun shows have demonstrated how easily individuals, even those who admitted to the seller that they probably could not pass a background check, can obtain firearms. The “Fix Gun Checks Act” (H.R. 1781), of which I am a cosponsor, would close the egregious gun show loophole. I hope Congress will now take action on this bill.
In both Friday’s shooting and the one in Tucson, Arizona, the gunmen carried a weapon with an extended magazine capable of discharging dozens of bullets in only a few seconds. There is no practical purpose for magazine clips this large. Shortly after the Tucson shooting, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) introduced the “Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act” (H.R. 308), that would limit ammunition clips to ten rounds. I am a proud cosponsor of this commonsense bill. We should also reinstate the assault weapons ban. Allowed to lapse in 2004 by the President Bush and Republicans in Congress, this ban would prevent the wide availability of military-style weapons that serve little civilian purpose other than to inflict mass carnage.
For far too many years, politicians have shrunk from the power and money of the NRA. These lawmakers have succumbed to the idea that our political futures are more precious than the lives of the constituents we represent. Standing up to the NRA isn’t an act of courage, it’s called doing our jobs.
It is encouraging to see that the opinions of some pro-NRA lawmakers are changing in response to the Newtown shooting. I hope that their support will finally help to turn the tide and allow Congress to enact legislation to keep our families safe. If 26 victims, 20 of which were children, does not inspire us to take our solemn responsibility more seriously, nothing will.