Why do we only talk about gun control after the most appalling mass shootings? On average, nearly 300 people in America are shot every day, so why has Congress refused to take action on common sense gun control regulations that the majority of Americans support?
Before you start thinking I’m just another Democrat who hates guns, you might be surprised to learn that for ten years, I have owned a Smith & Wesson Model 500. In fact, I’ve been around guns for most of my life.
It’s not a radical statement: all of us should agree that we want to make sure that weapons stay out of the hands of people that could use them to hurt others, especially after the tragedies we’ve seen in Charleston, Newtown, Wilkinsburg and too many other communities.
I’m the mayor of Braddock, Pennsylvania, a Rust Belt community that has struggled with violence. We’ve come a long way and went five and a half years without the loss of life, but the scars still remain. You might have heard about the nine dates tattooed on my arm, each one commemorating deaths due to senseless acts of violence in my town. Seven of these nine deaths were because of gun violence. Each one of these tragedies changed me profoundly and are a reminder that we as a country must do better.
I’d like to think we could have saved those lives with regulations that kept those firearms out of the hands of those criminals to begin with.
But instead of constructively working together — regardless of political ideology — around the shared idea that we all want to make our country safer, we’ve settled into an all-too-familiar pattern that pits gun owners against the rest of America. This dangerous divisiveness is fueled by hyperbolic NRA talking points that are rooted in the irrational fear that any attempt to make gun ownership safer is a threat to gun ownership everywhere.
The grip of the NRA is so suffocating in Washington that politicians are too afraid of the gun lobby to pass even the most sensible reforms, like universal background checks. This simple step could keep firearms out of the hands of the most dangerous people in our country and help save lives. But the NRA would rather that a violent criminal could purchase my gun on the street, no questions asked.
If we want to reduce gun violence, we have to do something. There are several steps we can take, if Congress is open to an adult conversation on the issue:
- Universal background checks and closing existing loopholes can prevent prohibited purchasers, such as convicted felons, the dangerously mentally ill and domestic abusers from accessing guns. 40% of gun sales take place without a background check — that means millions of guns are being sold every year with no questions asked. We need to continue building on the success of the Brady Bill, and that means eliminating loopholes on Internet sales, at gun shows, and wait times.
- More specifically, close the egregious “boyfriend loophole” that allows individuals convicted of domestic violence crimes or misdemeanor stalking to buy and use guns just because they didn’t marry their target. Unfortunately, due to the federal definition of “domestic violence,” gun prohibition doesn’t kick in for perpetrators who didn’t marry their target — so, boyfriends, or stalkers. Half of all women killed by intimate partners are killed by dating partners. It’s time to pass legislation that finally provides critical protections for survivors of domestic violence, regardless of marital status.
- Root out “bad actor” gun dealers. It’s hard to believe, but 90% of guns used in crimes across the country can be traced to only 5% of dealers. These unethical businesses look the other way when firearms are purchased in bulk (for illegal resales through gun trafficking) or when firearms are bought for others (straw purchases). We must tighten inspections and repeal the licenses of dealers who repeatedly break the law.
- Hold gun manufacturers accountable and throw out the PLCAA. For the last decade, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act has shielded negligent gun manufacturers and dealers from legal action that victims of gun violence could take to hold them accountable. These kinds of protections are enjoyed by no other industry in this country — why are gun manufacturers any different?
- Eliminate the Dickey Amendment. It’s a long-standing provision that has effectively blocked federal research on gun violence, and is no longer supported by the author himself, Rep. Jay Dickey (R-AR). It’s time to let the Centers for Disease Control study gun violence like the public health crisis it is.
Most importantly, we can get rid of cowards claiming to represent us in Washington and elect more leaders who are willing to stand up to the NRA and do what’s right, regardless of the political consequences.
If we can at least all acknowledge the elephant in the room, free of any NRA hysterics — that far too many innocent lives are being lost to a gun — then maybe we have a chance of helping to curb this public health crisis. And honestly, do I look like I’m scared of the NRA?