The horrific images from the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School are still seared into our minds – of six-year olds fleeing from danger, law enforcement officers overwhelmed with emotion, and parents grieving for loved ones taken from them forever.
President Obama’s powerful words after the shooting spoke directly to the soul of a nation searching for answers following another in a long line of gun-related massacres.
During my time as Mayor of Providence, one of the most difficult responsibilities I had was to meet with mothers and fathers whose children were victims of deadly gun violence. No words of mine could ever match the excruciating pain they felt.
Following this tragedy, I hosted a meeting on Capitol Hill, along with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and met with families whose lives have been devastated by gun violence. These were families who lost loved ones in brutal attacks at Columbine, Aurora, and Virginia Tech. I thanked them for their courage and willingness to push now for commonsense policy changes – stronger limits on assault weapons, tighter restrictions on sales of ammunition, and more thorough background checks on gun sales. But for many of the families I met with there was a larger concern – each of them have experienced the pain of not only losing a loved one, but also watching in vain as our leaders in Washington failed to take action to ensure these tragedies never happened again.
And, unfortunately, this apathy seems to be the rule rather than the exception in recent years.
Our national lawmakers have refused to act on the issue of gun safety even after every mass shooting that has taken place in recent years. There has been no serious push to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 or to require tougher background checks on all gun sales. And there has been no real effort in recent years to strengthen background check requirements to keep guns from ending up in the hands of criminals or individuals suffering with serious mental illness.
The tragedy in Newtown is, unfortunately, only the most recent of a long series of violent killings involving guns, but it is especially horrific because it involved the slaughter of 20 innocent children and their teachers.
It is my hope that it will mark a turning point in the debate over commonsense gun safety laws.
The response of the leaders of the National Rifle Association to the horrors of gun violence and in particular to the devastation at Sandy Hook Elementary School was to argue for more guns in schools and to use this occasion to re-state their strong opposition to any commonsense gun safety legislation.
We should move ahead to protect our children and communities from the dangers of gun violence despite strong opposition from the powerful gun lobby. While there is no perfect solution that will eliminate all gun crimes, there are many things we can do to significantly reduce the danger of guns getting into the hands of criminals and those that are seriously mentally ill, as well as restricting the sale of particularly deadly weapons and ammunition.
The fact is, we don’t need to wait for new proposals to be put forward – there are already a number of bills that I and many gun safety advocates have already co-sponsored that would provide significant changes to existing laws.
- The Fix Gun Checks Act would ensure that anyone who should not be allowed to have a gun is listed in the national instant criminal background check system and require a background check for every firearm sale.
- The Gun Show Loophole Closing would require background checks on any firearms sales that take place at a gun show.
- The Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act would require in person purchases of ammunition, licensing of ammunition dealers, and reporting regarding bulk purchases of ammunition.
- We can ban the types of devices typically used in mass shootings by passing the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act which would achieve this and also re-enact the Assault Weapons Ban.
- And the Fire Sale Loophole Closing Act to end the practice by which gun dealers who lose their license can convert their inventory into a “personal collection” and sell them privately.
The time for action is now. Enough is enough! We owe it to the families of all those who have lost loved ones to gun violence to do all that we can to end this human carnage. We have many good proposals pending in Congress right now. Let’s honor the memories of those who were murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School by taking strong action immediately.
They deserve nothing less.
**This blog was originally featured on The Huffington Post