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Durham Herald-Sun (Op-Ed): We desperately need action on gun violence

October 26, 2015
Op-Ed & Article
Durham Herald-Sun (Op-Ed): We desperately need action on gun violence

October 25, 2015 by Congressman David E. Price         

Last month, the country watched in horror as yet another mass shooting left nine dead in Oregon, adding Roseburg to a list that includes Charleston, Fort Hood, the Naval Yard, Sandy Hook, Aurora.

That afternoon, President Obama took to the podium in the White House briefing room and lamented the fact that these tragedies have become routine, along with the familiar pattern of anger, mourning, and congressional inaction that follows them.

In the past three years, the House of Representatives has repeatedly held moments of silence to honor the victims of these mass shootings. That says nothing of the smaller-scale domestic gun violence that happens every day – a battered wife shot by her husband, a desperate veteran committing suicide, a child discovering a parent’s weapon and accidentally using it to harm himself or herself or others. These everyday tragedies account for the vast majority of shooting deaths, and the toll is devastating: every year, 32,000 Americans die from gun violence, including almost 2,700 children. 

Enough must finally be enough. It will not suffice to routinely send out our “thoughts and prayers”. The time has come to put politics aside and do what is right for the country. As a Vice Chairman of the House Democrats’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, I have been strongly encouraging my congressional colleagues to implement reasonable policy proposals that could help stem this awful tide of violence. And public sentiment is on our side – polling suggests that voters overwhelmingly support common-sense reforms like universal background checks.

Unfortunately, a month after Roseburg, two years after the Navy Yard, and almost three years after twenty elementary school children were senselessly murdered at Sandy Hook, Congress seems less inclined than ever to take action, to our great shame and my great frustration.

Instead, Republican leadership has occupied itself with the political three-ring circus surrounding the House Select Committee on Benghazi. This committee has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on a political witch hunt – as Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy himself admitted – designed to destroy Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations with accusations of national security breaches for which there is no evidence.

It’s a shameful misuse of the important investigative power of Select Committees. From Watergate to 9/11, these special panels have historically convened to address urgent policy crises that pose a fundamental threat to our democracy or public safety. The bipartisan investigations these committees conducted led to the adoption of major reforms, often with significant impact.

That’s why I welcome a new effort by Congressman Mike Thompson, Democrat from California, to create a new Select Committee on Gun Violence Prevention to investigate the causes of our nation’s epidemic of gun violence and to recommend common-sense bipartisan reforms to begin to deal with it.

Congressman Thompson’s proposal would convene a panel of six Republicans and six Democrats, tasked with producing an in-depth report on gun violence with policy suggestions within 60 days. Those suggestions could include closing the loopholes in our country’s background checks for gun purchases, loopholes that allow criminals and the seriously mentally ill to buy guns. Or reinstating a common-sense ban on military-grade assault weapons that should never have been available for private purchase. Or – as I have argued many times on the Appropriations Committee– lifting the de facto ban on federal funding for gun violence research, which means we cannot even investigate public health impacts or possible solutions.

Many of these provisions have bipartisan support – it’s just a matter of Republican leadership allowing them to be considered. How many lives could have been saved if Congress had implemented common-sense gun control after Sandy Hook? After Tucson? After Columbine?

We desperately need action. I strongly reject the defeatist notion that we cannot do anything about gun violence.