Marching (and legislating) for our lives
Five years ago, a gunman shot and killed 20 little children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I am still praying for the families of those sweet six- and seven-year-olds, who should be happy sixth graders right now. Whenever I see or hear their family members talk about how their hearts still break, mine does also. It’s a pain that I cannot imagine and that they should not have to bear.
Since Sandy Hook, parents and communities across the country have organized to advocate for safer gun laws. They have not been able to break the grip of the NRA on Congress, and the slaughter has continued. In 2016, Democrats in the House of Representatives sat on the floor of Congress for 25 hours, trying to force Speaker Ryan to allow a vote on legislation to prevent terrorism suspects who are barred from flying from purchasing a firearm. The only result of that was Speaker Ryan threatened to sanction the Democrats for sitting on the floor.
On Valentine’s Day, 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The traumatized and angry students rejected the idea of a moment of silence in Congress and “thoughts and prayers” from politicians. They fought back, demanding the right to be safe in school. And now we are seeing students across the country speak up, walk out, and make their voices heard, too.
The Republican majority in Congress continues to ignore their call to action, and Speaker Ryan is still blocking any votes, but something is different this time. The youth of America want change, and they won’t be ignored. Today, they are marching all over the United States for gun safety laws, with the appropriate slogan, “Never Again.” I am proudly marching with them.
The failure of leadership to act while 400 more people have been shot on school property in over 200 separate shootings since that awful December day is both immoral and inexcusable. Our children are being gunned down in their schools.
It’s difficult to argue with people who are looking at Congress and wondering if too many Senators and Representatives are too close to the NRA and the gun manufacturers to take any action. Too many elected leaders continue to offer their “thoughts and prayers,” all the while holding their hands out for that next campaign check and coveting an A+ NRA rating.
Our responsibility as elected officials extends well beyond the offering of thoughts and prayers. We were sent here to take the bold actions necessary to ensure that our children and their parents can live their lives free from fear. We are supposed to protect our citizens at school, at work, at play, at the grocery store, at the movies, at religious services, and wherever else they are--but we aren’t even allowed to vote on a single bill that could do that.
Two weeks ago, I rallied outside the Capitol with students and gun violence prevention advocates. A young girl was standing there quietly with a sign that said, “Am I next?”
And so now I ask my colleagues: Will you let her be next? Or will Congress step up and address the gun violence crisis in our communities? When 18-year-olds are leading the country with moral courage, it’s time for us to respond in kind.
There are steps we can take that will protect people and our Second Amendment. As a member of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, I support enacting common sense measures to reduce gun violence in America. I agree with police officers across this country who say, get the AR-15s out of the hands of dangerous people. The data is clear--the assault weapons ban worked. Gun massacres fell 37 percent between 1994 and 2004, when the previous assault weapons ban was in effect, and the number of people who died from gun massacres fell by 43 percent. After the ban expired, gun massacres increased by 183 percent, and gun massacre deaths increased by 239 percent. One law won’t stop every mass shooting, but we can make them less deadly and less frequent.
I support closing background check loopholes and improving the background check system. We must limit high capacity magazines, and ban bump stocks. These weapons of war were designed for offensive military use, not home defense. They kill humans, and kill them quickly and efficiently.
We also need to look at access to mental health care. I am a longtime proponent of universal access to physical and mental health care. It is sheer hypocrisy, however, for Congressional Republicans to point only to mental health as the cause of mass shootings eight years into their repeated attempts to strip mental health care from millions.
There is some good news. We made a little progress this week. Since 1996, Congress has banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding research into gun violence prevention. However, we finally passed legislation as part of the omnibus that will allow the CDC to provide grants to look into gun violence in America. We also included legislation to improve the background check system.
While important, these changes fall far short of what will ultimately be needed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
The American people will keep their voices raised until Congress is forced to pass laws that help stop this sequence of avoidable tragedies and spare American families from such unimaginable grief. Speaker Ryan, the Republican who makes the decision about which bills get considered, must do the will of our constituents and put meaningful legislation on the floor of the House for a vote. He and his Republican Caucus must allow the debate to begin. Our people are dying, and we cannot wait any longer for gun safety action.