The tragedy in Newtown, Conn. is just the latest in a long string of violent, gun-related massacres perpetrated by deranged individuals. Because such young children and their teachers were involved, the tragedy has caused deep reverberations in the public psyche, opening the potential for a real effort to address the causes of such frightening and tragic mass murders.
Virginians are no stranger to these violent shootings, our own children were victims of the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007. Each year, approximately 100,000 people in America are shot with a gun, and over 10,000 are murdered using a firearm. According to the Children's Defense Fund, in 2008 and 2009, 5,740 children -- "one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 55 every week for two years" -- were killed by guns. The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is nearly 19 times higher than the combined rate of other populous high-income countries.
As the grief and pain from the Newtown tragedy subsides, as a legislative body, and as a people, we must take action to address the truly exceptional rate of gun violence afflicting our country.
Fortunately, there are clear steps we can take. Banning high-capacity ammunition clips and prohibiting the availability of military-style assault weapons, both of which serve no civilian purpose other than to inflict mass carnage, should be at the top of the list. We also must improve our nation's mental health system and increase the reporting of mental health records to the NICS background check database.
But there other needed reforms that we should consider as well. These are not radical ideas. Many, in fact, are supported by a significant strong majority of NRA members.
This past May, Frank Luntz, noted Republican pollster, conducted a survey of NRA members on gun safety. The results are encouraging, and highlight a large schism between NRA's leadership and the views of its members. According to the poll, NRA members support:
- Requiring background checks for every gun purchase (74% NRA member support);
- Requiring background checks on gun shop employees (79% NRA member support);
- Prohibiting individuals on the terrorist watch list from purchasing firearms (71% NRA member support);
- Requiring gun owners to report to police when their guns are lost or stolen (64% NRA member supports); and
- Establishing minimum standards for concealed carry permits (63-75% NRA member support for each standard)
Yet, lobbying pressure by the NRA and other gun groups has silenced Congress. That has to change.
To focus attention on this blatant discrepancy between the NRA, its own members and the American public, today, I introduced the NRA Members' Gun Safety Act, combining all of the provisions above supported in the Luntz poll into one, comprehensive bill.
The NRA's absolutist position on gun issues is an impediment to the safety and security of the public. They now have an opportunity to be proactive in the face of the Newtown tragedy, playing a constructive role in protecting the public in ways that do not undermine the 2nd Amendment in the eyes of their own membership.
We need the support of NRA members to turn the tide in favor of commonsense protections that can prevent gun violence. If the 26 victims in Newtown, including 20 five- and six-year-old children, do not inspire us to take our solemn responsibility more seriously, nothing will.