Last Friday, the nation was struck by another violent tragedy in Colorado that took the lives of 12 innocent people and injured 58 others. Since last year’s shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords and 19 others in Tucson, Arizona, more than 60 multiple-victim shootings have occurred. Unfortunately, just as quickly as the nation offered up its condolences and sympathy for the recovery of the Aurora community, the victims and their families, lawmakers in Washington rejected discussion of sensible gun control policies.
There are clear lessons from these mass casualty tragedies. The gunman in Aurora was equipped with four firearms and more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, including an A-15 assault weapon that could hold 100 rounds of ammunition and fire 50-60 rounds per minute. First, we should reinstate the ban on assault weapons. This ban, which expired in 2004, permitted the Aurora shooter to legally purchase this gun. Further, ammunition clips of up to 100 rounds serve no purpose for self-protection or hunting. Shortly after last year’s Tucson shooting, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy introduced the “Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act” (H.R. 308) to limit ammunition clips to 10 rounds. I strongly support this bill to place a sensible cap on the number of rounds a gun can fire in rapid succession. It’s a sad commentary on Congress that in the wake of a national gun-related tragedy, reasonable steps that could prevent future tragedies have not been afforded a hearing, much less a vote.
The reflexive submission of Congress to the will of the National Rifle Association has even blocked gun safety laws that are broadly supported by the American public, even among NRA members and gun owners. According to a recent 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 incredibly 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. Congress needs to close the gun show loophole.
At the same time, 82 percent of NRA members and 86 percent of non-NRA gun owners support federal legislation barring people on terror watch lists from buying guns and explosives. This legislation is based upon the reasonable belief that if someone is considered too dangerous to fly in an airplane, they are also too dangerous to possess firearms capable of inflicting mass carnage in a short period on-time. Despite the common sense nature of this proposal it is, just like legislation to close the gun show loophole, opposed by the NRA, ensuring it never receives thoughtful consideration by Congress.
In recent years, the NRA and other gun rights groups have been very successful at creating a false choice for lawmakers: either oppose all sensible gun safety restrictions or be accused of violating 2nd Amendment rights. But all rights, even the right to free speech, are subject to reasonable restrictions for the safety of the general public. The right to bear arms is no different.
Though politicians ignore the issue of gun violence in America, the facts speak for themselves. Over 280 million guns are estimated to be owned by Americans, nearly enough for every man, woman, and child in the country. Each year, approximately 100,000 people in America are shot with a gun, and over 10,000 are murdered using a firearm. The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is over 19 times higher than the combined rate of other populous high-income countries.
Our country’s unparalleled rate of gun violence is cause for alarm. Congress can do something to prevent future tragedies, but we must first decide to place the safety of the American public above the wishes of narrow special interest groups. Just as we should never forget the innocent victims of gun violence, neither should we abandon our efforts to build safe communities free of gun violence.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.