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John Rosenthal Headshot

Congress, Wake Up and Smell the Gunfire

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Gun violence in America results in over 30,000 deaths a year; more than 80 deaths and 200 gun related injuries everyday.

In the wake of the latest mass shooting in Tucson Arizona, where a mentally unstable 22-year-old gunman bought a semi-automatic pistol and large capacity ammunition clip at a gun store and killed 6 and wounded 14, including a Congresswomen and Federal Judge, members of Congress say they're "shocked".

That such a tragedy could happen to one of their own "just doing her job at such a commonplace" outside a supermarket, seemed surprising to the very group responsible for allowing criminals, terrorists and anyone, no matter how mentally unstable, to legally purchase guns in Arizona and in most states without detection.

After more than 15 years of being a lead advocate for gun violence prevention laws and putting up huge provocative billboards on the Massachusetts Turnpike near Fenway Park, attempting to change the debate in Congress and bring about reasonable national gun policy, maybe we're reaching a tipping point.

Congress has allowed federal gun policy to be dictated by the special interest National Rifle Association in exchange for tens of millions in campaign contributions. The NRA virtually owns the Republican Party and has intimidated the Democrats, including the president, into submission. The NRA has also mastered hate speech -- viciously targeting members of congress who support reasonable gun laws and accusing all law enforcement of being "jack booted thugs", simply for trying to do their job and enforce what few national gun laws exist. As a result, Congress has embraced a dangerously failed gun policy.

In fact if Congress actually tried to further increase gun violence in the US, they could hardly be more effective than the gun policies that exist today. For instance;

  • There is no federal law requiring a criminal background check or even proof of ID for all gun sales
  • In 33 states and at thousands of annual gun shows criminals, the mentally ill and even terrorists can legally buy firearms from private gun dealers cash and carry, no background check, ID or questions asked
  • Congress prohibits the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF and E) from regulating gun shows, maintaining gun purchase records and from inspecting gun dealers more than once a year
  • Congress prohibits the National Consumer Product Safety Commission from regulating the manufacturing and marketing of firearms
  • Congress allowed the 1993 federal ban on assault weapons including high capacity ammunition clips, like used in Tucson this weekend, to expire
  • Congress gave the gun industry immunity from law suits

Welcome to the "Hood" Congress -- you have finally reaped what you've sown.

For decades most victims of gun violence in the US have been urban non-white Americans living in our poorest neighborhoods where it's nearly impossible to find a job and all too easy to access firearms. These "commonplace" people and communities have been ravaged by the irresponsible gun policies enacted by Congress.

For black teens and young adults in the US, homicide is the leading cause of death. Blacks represent 13 percent of the nation's population yet account for 49 percent of all homicide victims of which, 82 percent were killed with guns. According to the FBI, in 2007 the homicide rate for black male victims was 20.86 per 100,000 population compared to 3.11 per 100,000 for white males. For blacks aged 15 to 24, 40 percent of all deaths were homicides and 89 percent of these homicides were perpetrated with a firearm.

The death toll that homicide with firearms has exacted on black teens and young adults in America is disproportionate and undeniable. It's unconscionable that Congress has ignored this disparity for so long and it can't be surprising that gun violence is finally reaching rich and powerful white Americans as well.

Certainly there's no simple solution that will reduce all gun violence and improve urban strife in our poorest neighborhoods. Maybe now that members of Congress and Judges are becoming victims of gun violence too, Congress just might consider following Massachusetts' lead by enacting effective gun laws aimed at reducing vs. increasing gun access to kids, criminals, and the mentally ill.