It’s hard not to feel powerless watching the images of young students stream out of their school — hands in the air so police can ensure they are not hiding a weapon — after the latest school shooting. This time, 17 students and teachers lost their lives in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when a 19-year-old former classmate brought an assault weapon to campus. He bought the weapon legally.
After each shooting, we hear from the same people, including many in Congress, that “now is not the time to act,” and that we should avoid “knee-jerk” reactions. But in the wake of this latest tragic shooting, the children have become the adults — organizing a march on Washington, talking to the media, and speaking directly to a nation about the pain they suffered, the lives lost, and why now is the time to act. They are showing the country and the Congress what courage looks like, and they are absolutely right.
This is the time to act — the only question is, will Congress grow a spine and do something?
I thought Congress would act in 2012 after Sandy Hook, when in minutes 20 precious children and six adults were slaughtered. Instead, Congress did nothing except hold a moment of silence. Moments of silence are just that — they’re a singular moment, but the heartbreak that follows these preventable tragedies never ends.
For years, many of us in Congress have tried to make gun safety a priority — only to be blocked by congressional Republicans, who are reliant on donations from the National Rifle Association, and, yes, some Democrats afraid of the group’s electoral power.
We can no longer cower before the NRA. While Americans are deeply divided over many important issues — from reforming our immigration system to healthcare — they are largely united on guns. In poll after poll, Americans across the political spectrum largely agree that we must begin to address gun safety. No one bill or step will fully eradicate the scourge of gun violence from our nation and our schools, but every step we take will hopefully stop some shootings before they ever occur, and at the very least, make those that do happen a lot less deadly.
After the latest shooting in Parkland, President Trump addressed the nation, saying that “no child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school.” If the president was serious, he should demonstrate real leadership. Here’s what we could do:
First, Congress should pass legislation to require background checks for all gun sales, and make the background checks far more rigorous. This is something that should garner broad bipartisan support — even 74 percent of NRA members support background checks for all gun sales.
Second, we should reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban. In 1994, Congress passed the ban, which prohibited individuals from manufacturing, transferring or possess semiautomatic assault weapons. The ban lasted for only ten years, but during this period, gun massacres markedly dropped, only to rise again after it expired in 2004.
Third, we should stop ascribing gun deaths only to mental illness. This is a tactic used by the NRA and its pawns in Congress to avoid talking about the role guns play in these tragedies. Addressing mental health is only a piece of the puzzle, and we should be doing everything we possibly can to increase access to mental health services, both in and out of schools, and reduce the stigma of mental illness.
These are three steps that should be taken quickly. Then, we can begin to look at other outstanding issues surrounding guns, from the age of purchase of firearms to allowing gun manufacturers to be held accountable in courts, and other common sense steps.
Schools should be a place for children to learn, play, and feel safe. Today, our children fear for their lives every time they step foot in their school, and parents can no longer tell their children they do not need to worry. This is an American nightmare. It’s time that Congress does what the country has been demanding — stare down the NRA, and do the right thing. Anyone who doesn’t, of either party, ought to fear the wrath of the voters.
This piece was originally published in the Pasadena Star-News.