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Gun Violence Prevention

 

 

 

 

 



OVERVIEW

It is time for a conversation about the accessibility of high capacity weapons in our country and the culture of violence we live in.

This conversation is long overdue. It is simply not an option to allow this discussion to again become stagnant or to be bullied into silence by seemingly untouchable organizations.

The horrific attacks at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, a Congressional baseball practice in Virginia, an airport in Fort Lauderdale, on LGBT Americans in Orlando, at a social services center in San Bernardino California, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Charleston's Emmanuel A.M.E. Church, Sandy Hook Elementary School, at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, at movie theaters in Aurora, Colorado and Lafayette, Louisiana, against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 18 others in Tucson, against faculty and college students at Virginia Tech, and at a high school in Columbine, CO – to name only a few high profile attacks, in addition to the tens of thousands of other acts of gun violence that occur each year – raise compelling questions about the accessibility of violent weapons in our society.

To date, Congress has failed to act in any significant way to curb gun violence and keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who wish to do others harm. These tragedies must be a call to action. Our response must not be hijacked by special interest groups and be intimidated into inaction.

 


A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT

To be clear, I believe that law abiding citizens have a constitutional right to own firearms, whether for sport or personal protection. The right of an individual to bear arms is clearly stated in the Second Amendment of our Constitution and has been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court. The majority of gun owners and members of national gun organizations are responsible, law-abiding citizens who agree with commonsense laws to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people. However, lobbyists and leaders from national gun organizations have frequently blocked legislation that would enact such laws and enable research to be done that would help shed light on how best to prevent future tragedies, such as examining the relationship between firearms and mental health.

While I believe that the Constitution confers a right to own firearms, I also believe that our laws should be able to reasonably oversee gun manufacturing, sale, and usage to ensure that firearms are used safely and responsibly. The changing nature of weapons toward more military style firearms has changed the conversation and added greater safety risk to the public.

 


ACTION TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE

I was honored to join Representative John Lewis, an esteemed colleague and moral authority in the Congress, and the entire Democratic caucus at a sit-in on the House Floor on June 22 and 23, 2016. Together, our efforts amplified the voices of the majority of the American people – and the majority of gun owners – who want Congress to take action to address gun violence. But the GOP leadership has repeatedly denied even a debate, let alone a vote, ignoring the public's outcry for action. During the sit-in, House Republicans adjourned and recessed the House of Representatives without bringing gun violence prevention legislation up for a vote.

Following that historic event, I co-hosted a roundtable event with Rep. Joe Kennedy and Rep. Stephen Lynch at UMass Boston, where the parents of gun violence victims told their stories and urged Congress to take action to prevent other families from having to endure such tragedies. As a result of that emotional and informational discussion, Rep. Kennedy, Rep. Lynch and I penned an Op-Ed that ran in publications across the state of Massachusetts.

In January, 2016, in the wake of the tragic shootings in San Bernardino, the White House announced executive actions to help prevent weapons from getting into the hands of dangerous people, strengthen mental health services, and increase gun safety technology research, which I also strongly support.

After the tragedy in Newtown, President Obama assigned Vice President Biden to head a commission that would examine gun violence in America and submit proposals to help stop future tragedies. I submitted a letter to Vice President Joe Biden outlining recommendations from stakeholders in the Third District aimed at curbing gun violence.  The commission ultimately outlined 19 approaches that the Obama Administration could take in the effort to reduce gun violence, and I have signed onto legislation to implement many of these recommendations.

I also joined the House Democratic Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, which is examining ways of reducing and preventing gun violence and has compiled a comprehensive set of policy proposals and legislative initiatives.

 


POLICY PROPOSALS

I believe there are several commonsense measures we can and must take now that will make great strides toward preventing gun violence, while fully respecting and protecting an individual’s constitutional right to own firearms.

STRENGTHEN MANDATORY BACKGROUND CHECKS AND CLOSE THE PRIVATE SALE LOOPHOLE

Under current law, private gun sellers are not required to conduct any background check on their buyers. Congress must do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill. You can’t know if someone falls into one of these categories without a background check.  I am a cosponsor of the Fix Gun Checks Act, which would require the federal government to send all necessary records on felons, drug abusers, and seriously mentally ill and other dangerous people to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It would also require an instant background check on every gun buyer, regardless if the purchase was made from a federal licensed seller or a private seller. I also cosponsor the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act, which would require universal background checks for all gun sales.

CLOSE THE “TERROR GAP” LOOPHOLE THAT ALLOWS SUSPECTED TERRORISTS TO PURCHASE WEAPONS

According to a study conducted by the Government Accountability Office, since 2004, more than 2,000 suspected terrorists have legally purchased weapons in the U.S. This alarming figure points to a clear and commonsense need to close the “terror gap” loophole that allows suspected terrorists to purchase weapons. I am a co-sponsor of the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act, a bipartisan and commonsense bill that would make our communities safer by preventing people who are linked to terrorist activities from buying a gun. Simply put: if the federal government doesn't allow you to board an airplane, it shouldn't allow you to purchase these weapons. We should be doing everything we can to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of suspected terrorists, and this bipartisan legislation directly supports that aim. In the wake of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting, I joined my Democratic colleagues on the House Floor in urging Republican leadership to allow a vote on this bill, and in filing a discharge petition to force a vote on the bill after House Republicans repeatedly voted to prevent the House from even debating it. Unfortunately, while nearly all Democrats have signed the discharge petition, and despite the fact that this bill was introduced by a Republican and many Republicans have cosponsored the bill, no Republicans have joined in this effort to see this bill come up for an immediate vote.  

REINSTATE THE FEDERAL BAN ON MILITARY-STYLE, CIVILIAN ASSAULT WEAPONS.

Such a targeted ban would protect law enforcement and civilians by keeping these high capacity guns, which were not designed for hunting and have virtually no sporting purposes, off the streets. Since being elected to Congress, I have supported legislation to reinstate a federal assault weapons ban. In April, 2014 I joined 80 other members of Congress in a letter to President Obama urging him to reinstate the ban on the importation of military style firearms. 

BAN LARGE CAPACITY FEEDING DEVICES, ALSO KNOWN AS HIGH CAPACITY MAGAZINES

In order to best keep our law enforcement officials and our communities safe, I support prohibiting civilians from obtaining magazines, belts, drums, or similar devices that have a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition and were used in the Orlando, San Bernadino, Newtown, Aurora and other massacres.

 CLOSE THE FIRE SALE LOOPHOLE THAT ALLOWS GUN DEALERS WHO HAVE HAD THEIR LICENSES REVOKED TO CONTINUE SELLING FIREARMS

Under current law, when a gun dealer has their license revoked or denied renewal by the federal government, they are permitted to convert their gun inventory into a private collection to be sold without the requirement of performing a background check on the purchaser.  While the majority of federally licensed dealers are legitimate businesses who work hard to keep their federal licensing, we cannot allow those who break the law to continue selling guns, with even less oversight and regulation.

CATALOG AND ELIMINATE POLITICALLY-MOTIVATED POLICY RIDERS THAT PREVENT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT FROM COLLECTING, SHARING, AND ANALYZING DATA ON GUNS AND GUN-RELATED VIOLENCE

A series of policy riders, many tucked into large appropriations bills, have for years hampered the federal response to gun violence, preventing the ATF from effectively sharing gun trace data with localities or from requiring gun dealers to check their inventories against loss or theft; requiring the FBI to destroy background checks, making it difficult to track down improperly-approved buyers; and preventing the CDC and the NIH from conducting research into the effectiveness of gun violence prevention programs, among others.  The public has the right to know the full extent to which such opaque riders have stymied federal efforts.  A catalog of them and a comprehensive review of each is necessary for an informed public discussion.

ALLOW THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION TO CONDUCT RESEARCH ON GUN VIOLENCE

I strongly support repealing the Dickey Amendment, which blocks the Centers for Disease Control from conducting research into the causes and possible solutions to gun violence in our nation. Former Congressman Jay Dickey himself agrees that it is time for Congress to end this prohibition on basic scientific research. In a recently published op-ed, he wrote that "our nation does not have to choose between reducing gun-violence injuries and safeguarding gun ownership." U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has also stated that gun violence is a public health issue and should be studied just like any other health crisis. I have joined my colleagues in asking House leadership to lift this ban on several occasions, and will continue to be an advocate for more scientific research into gun violence.

RENEW EFFORTS TO ADDRESS MENTAL HEALTH

In addition to these commonsense solutions, I hope to also see renewed effort to address our nation’s mental health funding crisis. I urge the Administration to fully fund the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in its coming budget and take other steps to help communities identify and treat their troubled members. Preventing gun violence will take a comprehensive approach. Making sure that all options are part of the discussion must be part of that strategy.

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