Brady Bill Was Just the Beginning

11/13/2013 06:39 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

I still remember March 31, 1981, when a deeply disturbed John Hinckley Jr. took aim at President Ronald Reagan and fired shots that hospitalized the Commander-in-Chief and two others, and left his Press Secretary James Brady paralyzed for life. The outrage we felt as a nation and the efforts of Mr. Brady and his wife, along with the National Council to Control Handguns, led to the passage of the bill bearing his name to help prevent guns from ever reaching the hands of criminals or the mentally ill. Since then over two million gun purchases have been blocked thanks to background checks, half of those attempted purchases made by felons. The National Council continues on as The Brady Campaign, continuing work to keep our communities safe from gun violence. We are safer today because of the Brady Bill, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Today, every day in America guns are used in 32 murders, 51 suicides, and 45 accidental shootings or deaths. Our rate of homicides by firearms is 20 times that of the next 22 nations with similar wealth and populations - combined. An average of eight children and teenagers are shot every day, and gun violence is second only to car accidents in causing the deaths of our children. The costs of medical expenses and criminal prosecution, as well as other costs from gun violence, total up to $100 billion a year. This cost in human life is simply unacceptable.

After so much loss and sadness in just this year alone, it could not be clearer that Congress must take action. We must urge a national dialogue on better methods of curbing preventable gun violence, and address the need for mental health awareness and access to psychiatric services in this country. So many deaths could be prevented if measures were implemented to expand background checks and keep individuals like John Hinckley from ever buying firearms in the first place. Recently we have seen national tragedies at the supermarket, mall, movie-theater, elementary school, and even at the Navy base, perpetrated by severely disturbed individuals who never should have had access to guns. Supporting mental wellness is crucial to any goal of decreasing gun violence in America.

There has been a lot of progress in twenty years, but it has been a long, tough road and there is a lot more to do further left to go. I am working right now on passing The Enforce Existing Gun Laws Act (H.R. 1728), a bill that would lift restrictions placed on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regarding how it can keep track of firearms and share information with law enforcement. But enforcing our existing gun laws has to go hand in hand with working to make sure the mentally ill have access to treatment, not firearms.

We have taken a good first step with the Affordable Care Act and its new provisions for mental health coverage. Now it is incumbent upon Congress to finish what we started. Whatever one's stance on gun control is, I know everyone can agree that we should not rest until America becomes a place where families never have to worry about their loved ones being shot by a crazy gunman. We in Congress must continue the work we started a generation ago, and make a safer country for every generation to come.