---- — At a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Newtown, Conn., shooting recently, I was struck by the resolve of the men, women and children standing beside me. There was sadness and there were tears shed, but there was also a renewed commitment for change, a steely demand that something be done to at least reduce the chances of another tragedy like this from happening again.
Throughout my time in Congress, I have supported common-sense restrictions on gun control, and I have seen the media’s attention to and the public’s passion for the debate ebb and flow. What I see right now is a groundswell of support for reform — we must seize this opportunity to act now. And while the National Rifle Association (NRA) may be powerful, many of its members are willing to adopt reasonable safety measures, and the NRA leadership alone is no match for the power of the American people, the power of our voices working together.
There is no doubt that this will be hard, but it is nowhere near as difficult as doing nothing and seeing another family lose their child, or another child lose his or her parent to gun violence.
First things first, we need to reinstate the so-called Assault Weapons Ban. In 1994, Congress first passed this law, banning high-capacity magazines and certain assault weapons. The ban did not take away the Second Amendment right to bear arms, or prevent hunters and sportsmen from continuing their traditions, but it limited the ease with which assault weapons find their way onto our streets. I pledge to push for immediately reinstating an improved Assault Weapons Ban that also restricts the size of ammunition feed devices.
Further, there is no reason we cannot agree to implement full background checks on all gun purchases. While the Brady Act directs federally licensed dealers to run background checks, those purchases made at gun shows, online, through newspaper ads, and more are not held to the same standard. According the Center for American Progress, 40 percent of firearm acquisitions are from individuals who are not licensed gun dealers and do not undergo any background checks.
States must do a better job reporting records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). A report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns finds “major failure by 23 states in submitting mental health records to the system, with 17 states reporting fewer than 10 records and four submitting none at all.” And a conversation on the amount of violence our children are exposed to in the media should be on the table as well.
While I believe that these and other common sense reforms will keep our families safer, I know we need a more comprehensive approach. We need to continue to invest in our mental health care system and education system, and provide schools, families, and communities with the resources they need to treat and care for those who need help. Despite my and others’ opposition, Republicans in Congress continue to slash our investment in mental health care, as do many states across the country, with some arguing that it is easier for a person to obtain a gun than it is to receive treatment for mental-health issues.
The task force being led by Vice President Joseph Biden, made up of members of Congress and officials from Justice, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Education, is intended to provide the kind of holistic approach that we need. While it is important to act in a thoughtful manner, we must not allow a timely and empathetic response to be sidetracked yet again by studies or reports. In the next few weeks, I will be working with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and those affected by gun violence to urge the task force to move these commonsense policies, while also seeking new ideas that might strengthen our effort to get more assault weapons off the street.
I recently read that 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the Unites States, with Finland in second place with two. That ranking, the murder of 20 children, the attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her staff, and the widely unreported shooting of children in inner cities across this country, cannot be our legacy.
I believe that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can approach this issue with compassion and commonsense ideas and pass restrictions that will leave this country safer for our children. The American people should stand for no less.
John Tierney, D-Salem, is U.S. representative for the Sixth District.