A Sensible Path Forward on Gun Safety
Last night, President Obama once again committed himself and the nation to meaningful action to reduce gun violence in our society:
This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?
I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.
Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America — victims whose — much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.
In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
As policymakers look for a way forward, ThinkProgress’ Igor Volsky rounds up five sensible steps President Obama, Congress, federal agencies, and the states can take in response to the nation’s high rate of gun violence:
1) States should submit their mental health records. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 established the in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), a database to collect data from state governments and federal agencies of individuals who are banned from purchasing firearms. These include: felons, fugitives, persons convinced of misdemeanor crime for domestic violence, unlawful users of or those addicted to drugs, the mentally incompetent, undocumented immigrants, dishonorably discharged veterans, people who have renounced citizenship, domestic violence abusers, among others. Despite this improvement, the database is still far from complete. 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.” States can do a better job of complying with the mandate and the federal government should establish clear reporting guidelines and fund the requirement.
2) Federal agencies should submit mental records into the NICS. Following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January 2011, the Justice Department developed a list of “steps the government could take to expand the background-check system in order to reduce the risk of guns falling into the hands of mentally ill people and criminals,” including using “information on file at other federal agencies” to bolster the database. Currently, “52 of 61 federal agencies that are required to submit records have not done so.” President Obama should issue an executive order directing agencies to submit their records to the NICS.
3) Full background check on all gun transactions. Since the passage of the Brady Act, gun purchasers buying firearms from federally licensed dealers are subject to background checks. As a result, more than 2 million applicants have been prohibited from purchasing guns. Unfortunately, 40 percent of firearm acquisitions are from individuals who are not licensed gun dealers and do not undergo any background checks. Congress should consider legislation likeThe Fix Gun Check Act, which expands background checks to include guns purchased at: “gun shows, flea markets, private sales, through newspaper advertisements, and online purchasers.” Individuals on the federal government’s watch list of terror suspects should also be prohibited from purchasing firearms.
4) Ban assault weapons and ammunition magazines that hold 10 or more rounds. In 1994, Congress passed a ban against high-capacity magazines and banned the manufacture, transfer, and possession of certain assault weapons. The law wasn’t perfect — for instance, it grandfathered existing assault weapons and ammunition magazines and manufacturers could bypass the ban with minor modifications — but studies did find a drop in use of assault weapons and high capacity magazines following passage. The law was allowed to expire in 2004, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has pledged to introduce a new ban that would cover the sale and importation of assault weapons, certain kinds of bullets, big drums and extended magazines.
5) Improve treatment of mental illness. It’s currently easier for a poor person to obtain a gun than it is for them to receive treatment for mental health issues, as state governments continue to cut services to balance budgets. States have slashed “at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012″ — representing the “largest reduction in funding since de-institutionalization in the 1960s and ’70s. In 2012, 31 states cut more than $840 million. Obamacare will require health plans on statewide exchanges to cover mental health services as one of its “essential health benefit” categories, though states ultimately carry most of the discretion when it comes to defining what these services are and how much funding they will receive.
BOTTOM LINE: The time is now and we can no longer let politics get in the way of protecting everyone in our society from senseless gun violence.
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