OPINION GUEST COLUMNIST
Now is the time for sensible gun laws
We will not be safe until we solve the problem of virtually unfettered access to guns. This will require a comprehensive package of legislation.
Items left outside the Tree of Life building in 2018. (Photo by Laurie Zittrain Eisenberg)
The trial of the perpetrator of the Oct. 27, 2018, gun massacre at the Pittsburgh synagogue where Dor Hadash, New Light and Tree of Life congregations prayed began on Monday. Armed with an assault weapon and motivated by antisemitic hatred, he killed 11 Jewish worshipers and injured six of our neighbors, including four first responders. He changed the lives of nine families and three congregations irrevocably. In response, our community has fortified its communal spaces with armed guards and technology. Communities across the nation have turned their schools into armed fortresses. Despite these efforts people are still murdered in Walmarts and banks, at nightclubs, movie theaters, nail salons, outdoor concerts and gyms. And they still die in schools — in Uvalde and St. Louis, Charlottesville and Nashville. According to the Gun Violence Archive, since the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, there have been 134 gun mass murders where four or more people have been killed. There have been 2523 mass shootings where four or more people have been either shot or killed; more than one mass shooting for every single day that has elapsed. And mass shootings comprise only a tiny percentage of gun deaths. We will not be safe until we solve the problem of virtually unfettered access to guns.This will require a comprehensive package of legislation that, while respecting the Second Amendment, also recognizes the right of citizens to be safe from the epidemic of gun violence ravaging our nation.
Americans already agree on this. We know that more guns and weaker gun laws mean more death and shattered lives. Recent polls have shown that overwhelming majorities of us, including Republicans, Democrats and independents, support universal background checks (88% support); red flag laws to temporarily remove weapons from persons judged, through due process, to be a danger to themselves or others (77% support); safe storage laws to prevent unintentional and school shootings (80% support); raising the age to purchase any gun from 18 to 21 (74% support); and mandatory reporting of lost and stolen guns to halt the flow of illegal guns into communities. A small majority of Republicans even support a ban on high-capacity magazines.
We know that stricter firearms laws result in less gun violence and fewer gun deaths. States with the strongest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths. Red flag laws decrease intimate partner gun homicides; and there is evidence that universal background checks decrease firearm homicides, according to a Rand study this year. Safe storage laws reduce gun suicides, homicides and assaults and unintentional shootings and firearms injuries among youths.
Only three groups oppose these common-sense solutions: gun manufacturers, the fringe leadership of the NRA, and related “gun rights” groups and legislators. The motivation for gun manufacturers to oppose stricter gun laws is simple: money.
The NRA serves as the lobbying arm of the gun industry. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the NRA began as a non-partisan organization that supported reasonable gun regulations. Since 1971, it has evolved into a hard-line organization with substantial industry funding that opposes virtually all stricter gun laws and supports almost exclusively Republican candidates. The NRA enforces its will through its rating system for politicians (F to A+) and through its twin arms, the NRA Political Victory Fund and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. By supporting primary challengers to Republican legislators who are not “pro-gun” enough, the NRA has made opposing any sort of gun regulation part of the Republican orthodoxy.
In our Congress and state Senate, legislators are leveraging their positions as committee chairs and in leadership to subvert the will of their constituents by refusing to advance lifesaving legislation. Recently retired legislators of both parties have told me that this is because legislators don’t want to lose their next election. Legislators of both parties know that most voters support better gun laws. Many of them believe that gun laws would work. But Republican legislators also know they will face a primary challenge from a well-funded, NRA- backed opponent if they don’t toe the party line.
The current situation is unacceptable. We should not have to live like this and we certainly shouldn’t have to die like this so that politicians can keep their jobs. Congressional Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, Pennsylvania Senate Pro Tempore Kim Ward, and Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lisa Baker must hear our voices. If they do not, the carnage will continue until we, the survivors, vote them out. PJC
Dana Kellerman is policy director of Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence and a member of Congregation Dor Hadash.