THE BLOG

NRA Needs to Go to School

12/21/2012 06:18 pm ET | Updated Feb 20, 2013

The morning of the Newtown, Conn. shooting I met with relatives of a gunshot victim and attempted to comfort a mother who has lost her child. Fourteen-year-old Unique Russell was gunned down this summer as she stood watching fireworks while celebrating the 4th of July with her family. A young man with a gun fired into the crowd and within seconds, a bright and bubbly young teen slipped away. Unique was celebrating an American holiday. And she died as too many other Americans do -- a victim of gun violence.

The massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown has refocused a heartbroken nation on gun violence and highlighted the glaring lack of a sensible, strong federal policy that could reduce the carnage on our streets, in our schools and even our homes.

I heartily support President Obama's promise to put forth a national gun policy proposal that is comprehensive and balanced, one that will protect the constitutional right to bear arms while also reducing the violence perpetrated on our children. We need to forcefully back Senator Dianne Feinstein's bill that seeks to reinstate the assault weapons ban; we need to support Vice President Joe Biden in his task to advocate for tighter gun control. We need to get behind California State Sen. Kevin de Leon's bill in the Legislature that would require ammunition buyers to acquire an annual permit -- expected to cost about $50 -- and undergo background check.

Then there is the National Rifle Association -- an organization that has the audacity to blame everyone else -- Hollywood, video game manufacturers, the media -- for our country's gun-related violence. Incredibly, their solution for ending this scourge on our nation is to harken back to the Wild West, to have more guns, now in our schools. The NRA is an organization that profits mightily by working in lockstep with gun manufacturers to fill our neighborhoods with weapons capable of mass destruction, so it is no surprise they would use this tragedy to try to make more money.

As a former school teacher of 10 years, and now as an elected official representing an area where homicide and gun violence are all too common, I have never heard a more cynical and outrageous proposal. When the 310 million Americans who are not NRA members needed the four million who are to step up with ideas, proposals and assistance for reducing gun violence, the NRA offers to inundate our society with more weapons and armed citizens. Just what we need, more George Zimmermans.

Los Angeles may be 3,000 miles away from Newtown but we know the devastation caused by gun violence. In my district, which stretches from Koreatown to the north Playa del Rey to the west as far south as Carson and east to Lynwood, homicide is the leading cause of premature death in 2008 for people under the age of 75, according to a county health report. Guns are by far the weapons of choice to cut short a life.

We don't need more guns. Placing more and more police officers everywhere is not the answer. We need to change a culture of violence, the accessibility of enormous ammunition clips, violence presented as entertainment to our children, and provide actual treatment for the mentally ill among us.

We need to close all the gun law loopholes that the NRA has worked so effectively to create. Background checks must be required not only when firearms are bought from shops, but also at gun shows. Enormous clips of ammunition meant to keep our troops well-armed cannot be made available to anyone anywhere. Weapons like the AR-15 rifle, the .223 Bushmaster, Adam Lanza's most deadly firearm that shoots up to 45 rounds per minute, does not belong in any home.

I know changing our gun laws won't eliminate all gun violence. The flood of weapons has coincided with less access to affordable mental health treatment for many of our citizens. Those people Wayne LaPierre called "monsters" are too often the mentally ill and they could be your son, your sister, your uncle or mother. We must de-stigmatize mental illness, we must stop looking at the ailment as a crime and provide mental health treatment.

What city or town, suburb or farmland is immune from gun violence? Littleton, Aurora, West Paducah, Newtown, Phoenix, Blacksburg, Stockton, Los Angeles, Chicago -- these names remind us that the answer is nowhere. We need change - not more guns.

It is clear the NRA is entrenched and refuses to join the nation in reassessing our relationship with firearms. So the rest of us must do so. Those little children and the brave educators in Newtown deserve better. Unique Russell deserves better. We, as Americans, deserve better.