Combatting Gun Violence

“We need to do something. We need to get out there and be politically active. Congress needs to get over their political bias with each other and work toward saving children’s lives...We’re children...You guys are the adults.”

David Hogg Senior, Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS

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What happened in Parkland last week is nothing short of horrifying. Having been a teacher and a parent, something like this was always my worst fear. Seeing it play out in Florida has been very painful.

My heart has broken over and over again as more details have come out about the shooting. As with any tragedy, my thoughts and prayers immediately went to the victims and their families. But knowing that this has happened time and time again, it was not long before my sadness and horror translated into anger and determination.

You see, David (who's only 17) could not be more right. We're the adults - we need to be the ones to figure this out. We need to have those tough conversations. We need to be more politically active. And we need to get over our political biases.

The fact of the matter is that we agree more than we disagree. Some politicians will have you believe that all Democrats want to take away your guns. It's just simply not true and plays into the politics of fear.

The United States has around 300 million guns. Gun manufacturers sold, on average, 73,972 guns PER DAY in 2016. Those who will have you believe that it's even possible to confiscate 300 million guns are foolish.

With that being said, we can be a country that embraces the right to bear arms, while also making it a safer country to live in. What's more is that Americans, gun owners included, agree on so many of these initiatives to make the country safer.

The fact that Congress hasn't taken any action even after the tragedies at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, and many others is shameful. We cannot justify the inaction to the families of the victims at Parkland and we won't be able to justify inaction to the families of the next tragedy. It's clear that we have to do something.

When I am in Congress, these will be the initiatives I will fearlessly back - because when innocent people in public places, and particularly our children, are not safe, Congress must make tough decisions about how we can do better (in the same way that long ago we decided that seat belts needed to be in cars). It's clear that unrestricted and unlimited weapons of war do not have legitimate place in our society. It's time that Congress put the safety of Americans over the interests of the gun lobby.

Background Checks and Waiting Periods

This is our first bit of common sense. We need universal background checks and waiting periods. It's worth waiting a few days to ensure that whoever is buying a guy is not a criminal or does not have potential criminal intent. A new, widely-praised study found that waiting periods reduce gun homicides by 17% and suicides by 11%, meaning that close to 1000 lives could be saved every year in America if waiting periods were expanded to all states.

Waiting periods are believed to allow for the “cooling down” of people and prevent deaths, without actually infringing on citizens’ rights to buy guns. Other studies have shown significant decreases in mortality in states where there are stronger background checks. We need mandatory background checks no matter where a gun is purchased, meaning that we need to close the gun show loophole. More than 90% of Americans support universal background checks, and 75% support a 30-day waiting period.

Bump Stocks and High Capacity Magazines

Bump stocks, which can be outfitted to semi-automatic weapons and allow them to fire at an almost fully-automatic capability, must be outlawed. Bump stocks were used in the tragic Las Vegas shooting in October 2017, and almost 80% of Americans support banning them. Some states have already moved to outlaw them.

Furthermore, high capacity magazines are not necessary for home protection nor for hunting. In 1994, Congress banned magazines that held more than 10 bullets. This regulation expired in 2004. High capacity magazines make these weapons even more deadly than they already are, and should not be available on the open market.

Required Training for Assault Weapons

The massacres of just the last few years show us that we need to increase regulations on AR-15 style firearms. These weapons have been used time and time again to kill large numbers of people. Simply put, it should not be easier to buy an assault rifle than it is to buy a car. By requiring training and a background check, we can keep these weapons out of the hands of those who have no business handling a military style weapon, while also preserving access for those who are willing to go through a reasonable process to own them.

Restricting Gun Sales from the Mentally Ill

Last year, at the urging of the NRA, President Trump revoked a rule that required the Social Security Administration to report to the FBI records of people that were deemed mentally incapable of managing their financial affairs — about 75,000 people. Surely people who are not mentally stable enough to manage their own money should not have access to a gun. While this may not have prevented the Parkland shooting, we need to be getting smarter about how to practically keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, not expanding access.

Moreover, if we want to better respond to and prevent mass gun shootings, we have got to have better research on what preventative measures work. Part of the reason there isn't a bigger push to enact better gun safety is that federal research on this has been nearly nonexistent since 1996. Jay Dickey was a Republican Congressman from Arkansas and in the 90s led the effort to restrict federal studies on this. Before he passed Dickey had a change of heart and called to lift this ban on research, explaining, “We need to turn this over to science and take it away from politics." I couldn't agree more.

Improving National Background Check System

We must have better enforcement of the existing National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Mandated since 1998, the system is managed by the FBI and is used to determine if a prospective gun buyer is ineligible to purchase or has a criminal record.

Prior offenses must be entered in it for it to be effective. Dylann Roof would not have been able to obtain a gun if his narcotics charge were entered in the system. Similarly, Devin Kelley wouldn’t have been able to buy a gun if his domestic violence charges had been entered in the database. There needs to be uniformity in how charges are entered into the database so that mistakes like this do not happen.

Getting Dark Money out of Politics

While it's strange that this needs to be included in a policy memo on combating gun violence, it's clear that dark money from the National Rifle Association (NRA) has prevented these common sense measures from happening. We need to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform so that organizations like the NRA are not able to buy seats in Congress and have undue influence over our politics. What is bad for the gun industry's bottom line cannot have more weight than what Americans agree needs to be legislated.

Janet GarrettComment