Two of my close friends have had their lives shattered by gun violence. I refuse to accept a future where we grow numb to news of these tragedies; where students feel unsafe in their schools, and where we continue losing 96 Americans to gun violence every day.
What’s in the way of action? The money that poisons our politics. The NRA is a trade lobby for gun manufacturers. It spends millions every cycle to conflate the concerns of law-abiding gun-owners with a corporate agenda: unrestricted access to a dangerous product. So my aproach is: don't play on their turf.
This is not a debate about the merits of individual gun owenership. This is a struggle between corporate profits at any cost, and communities responding to an urgent public health crisis. We're facing a national epidemic, and we should be changing our laws, our culture and our technology in response.
Change our Laws: Commonsense Regulation
There are common-sense changes to our laws that have overwhelming public support, including among responsible gun owners.
- Comprehensive universal background checks – closing loophole on gun show and online sales – and stricter licensing.
- A revived (and more comprehensive) assault weapon ban, that doesn’t allow gun manufacturers to change the grip on an outlawed weapon and get it back to market.
- Raising the minimum age to 21 years old for the purchase of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns—so that it matches the minimum purchase age for handguns.
- Red Flag rules allowing concerned family members and local law enforcement to keep guns out of the hands of people who pose a danger to themselves or others, especially those accused of domestic violence or under a restraining order. There’s currently a “boyfriend” loophole: laws that apply to an abusive spouse don’t always apply to a non-spousal partner. We need to close it.
We also have to push back against NRA attempts to shift the conversation toward “more guns” by:
- Opposing concealed carry reciprocity. The federal government shouldn’t be overriding communities who have set their own standards not just for concealed carry, but for licensing, red flags, and ownership.
- Opposing efforts to arm teachers. This idea is just perverse. It’s widely opposed by law enforcement as well as the teacher’s unions. Despite fantasies peddled by the NRA, adding civilians with weapons to an active shooter situation usually leads to more deaths and injuries, and only confuses first responders.
Change the Culture: Gun Violence as a Public Health Crisis
This epidemic takes different forms in different communities. We have to show up everywhere with the message that every mass shootings, every homicide, every suicide and every accident is an unnecessary tragedy. Beyond gun regulation, there’s a lot we can do:
- Educate and empower teachers and students to recognize and report warning signs of gun violence.
- Transitional services for emotionally disabled young adults after high school graduation.
- Encourage and resource school districts to develop suicide prevention plans.
- Fully resource mental health services and campus safety in our universities.
And as we change our laws and our culture, we have to be attentive to voices that’ve been historically excluded from these conversations, and whose tragedies don’t make the national news. It’s just a fact: people of color who follow our gun ownership laws—people like Philando Castile and Siwatu-Salama Ra—aren’t afforded equal treatment by law enforcement and the justice system. And when a gun is present in a situation of domestic violence, it increases the risk that the victim will be killed fivefold. So we have to welcome everyone to the table: gun violence is a social justice issue, a women’s issue, and a family issue.
Change the Technology: Fund Research to Find Solutions
In 1996, the NRA pushed a rule through Congress, the Dickey Amendment, that’s muzzled the CDC, and kept it from studying the role of guns in public health, and making recommendations the way they do with every other public health crisis.
The recent spending bill that passed Congress loosened that restriction, but it didn’t go far enough – we need to be actively funding the CDC to do research, and guaranteeing that there won’t be repercussions for doing good science.
This research is important to study the scope, causes and effects of gun violence, and also to direct investments in technology that prevents misuse of firearms, such as biometric safeties and proximity sensors that prevent unauthorized users from firing weapons. There are entrepreneurs right here in the District who are working on this technology, and we should be exploring every avenue to make the guns we do have safer.