Gun Sense

Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people

There is no denying that gun violence is a huge problem in the US and, sadly, more so than anywhere else in the world. It’s time for more than just “thoughts and prayers.” I support common-sense gun-control legislation that begins with the need to ban assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, closing gun show loopholes, and requiring universal background checks on all gun purchases. 

We’ve all heard a great deal about the Constitution’s 2nd Amendment clause in recent decades, more often than not in the aftermath of another dreadful mass-shooting event like Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, or Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. But what exactly did the Framers intend when the Constitution was being ratified during a time when there was not yet any semblance of a “US Military” in the world:

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This is the 2nd Amendment in its entirety.  A bit vague, but best understood in the context of the time when it was written: an era where our economic output was driven by a flourishing slave trade and our young Republic had neither an Army or naval assets to defend American territory or sovereignty. In the late 1780s, keeping and bearing “Arms” was simply tacit acknowledgment that, for the time being, our national security required using citizens with their own muzzle-loading muskets, flintlock pistols and bayonets.

But much has changed in the United States during the intervening 230 years. We now maintain national security with the largest, most-powerful military in history.  No one’s trying to change the constitution here nor take away their muskets – but we do need to apply some contemporary common sense to interpreting the 2nd Amendment. I believe that starts with requiring universal background checks for any gun purchase and reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. 

About 20 years ago, I served as a juror on a murder trial in which a gun had been used in the commission of the crime.  During the voir dire process, I was asked by the judge how I felt about gun control.  It was something about which I had not given a lot of thought, so, I said I was satisfied with the laws that were on the books.  Fast forward 20 years, and my position has changed drastically. 

Maybe it’s because gun violence is in the news each and every day with so young people and innocent bystanders being wounded or killed.  Maybe it’s because mass shootings have become so common place that they no longer even shock us. 

After the 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Florida I was so moved by the passion and activism of the students that I joined them in DC for the March for our Lives.  I thought for sure our legislators would do something about gun violence.  How could they possibly listen to these passionate young people and not be moved to take action?  Sadly, all we got, once again, was “thoughts and prayers” – not a shred of meaningful legislation.

A 2019 Politico poll found that 70% of Americans support an assault weapons ban. That includes 86% of Democrats and 54% of Republicans.  An NPR / PBS Newshour conducted in September of 2019 found that 83% of Americans believe Congress should pass legislation requiring background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or other private sales.

It is clear to me that the legislative initiatives with the strongest public support include more funding for mental health screening and treatment, mandatory background checks and licensing for gun purchases, and passage of a national “red-flag” law, which would give a judge authority to order the removal of guns from a person who poses a risk to themselves or others. These are precisely the sort of sensible solutions we so desperately need – and I will work to bring about legislation that truly addresses the uniquely American tragedy of gun violence.

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