Enough is enough; the memories of hundreds of thousands of Americans that have died to gun violence in just the past decade deserve more courage and reflection. Aurora adds to a long list that, to name a few, includes: Tucson, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Oklahoma City. The problems and reasons behind this epidemic are too wide and disparate for a one-stop prescription; from mental health to easy access to guns to lax rules around mail-order ammunition to increasing economic inequality to our society’s fascination with violence. It is, however, about time that our nation has a dialogue that leads to real prescriptive solutions, without the extremes that so often come with it, about what we can do to be more responsible about gun ownership in America.
An overwhelming majority of our nation supports the Second Amendment, but a similar majority – over 85% of the public and 80% of gun owners – support tougher laws to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. In particular, they support fixing gaps in government databases that prevent the mentally ill, drug abusers and other dangerous people from buying guns is sound public policy. They believe supporting full funding for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to put more records in the national database is reasonable. They agree that requiring background checks for all guns sold at gun shows is common sense. In short, the public is already overwhelmingly demanding action. Similarly, there have been countless polls that show a significant number of Americans support parity in mental healthcare and improved access to mental health screenings, as well increased rules around mail-order gun businesses. So why the disconnect from our policymakers?
There is no national dialogue on gun control because the voices of victims, their families and regular Americans continue to be drowned out by special interests whose sole purpose is to advocate for their own existence. As a Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, the former Chair of the Committee on Public Safety in the California Assembly, and a former County Supervisor in Santa Clara County, I’ve been on the front line of these issues for decades. I’ve fought on a local, state, and federal level for sensible reform; one that respects our constitutional rights, but also protects public safety. Yet from the lifting of the Assault Weapons Ban to the continued presence of the Tiahrt Amendments to the persistent push to further deregulate gun ownership, our nation is not moving forward on this generation defining issue. The shooter in the Aurora tragedy purchased over six thousand rounds of ammunition online in the month leading up to the tragedy and it triggered absolutely no red flags. Our government regulates how much Sudafed can be purchased in a month due to fears of methamphetamine abuse and it regulates how much fertilizer can be purchased due to the Oklahoma City bombing, but someone can buy thousands upon thousands of bullets in a short period with no restriction. To this point, it is easier and cheaper in some parts of our nation to be eligible to purchase a gun, than it is to be eligible to vote; gun registration costs eight dollars in some states with background checks done near instantaneously at the point of sale whereas one has to spend twenty-five dollars for a government issued ID and be registered in advance to be eligible to vote.
There is still hope if our nation stands up and demands change. We can start by changing the tenor of the conversation on gun control so neither side takes the issue to the extremes. We can move forward by considering sensible legislation like the Fix Gun Checks Act and fully funding existing laws that improve our databases. And finally, we can hold our elected leaders responsible at the ballot box, on the campaign trail and in their elected offices for standing up with courage and not surrendering to politically expedient headwinds. We owe it to the victims and their families of these heart wrenching tragedies to make real and lasting progress on the issue of gun control now.
Honda is Silicon Valley’s representative in Congress. He is a senior member of the House Budget and Appropriations Committees and a Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science.