For gun violence survivors, this past week was momentous. Many around the country who have become accidental activists joined President Obama at the White House as he signed executive orders enforcing federal firearm background checks. They joined him again at his nationally televised town hall in Virginia where he explained those actions.
For the rest of us who have not yet personally been affected by gun violence, it was still a big deal.
Narrowing the reckless and irresponsible loophole which allows 40 percent of all firearm purchases to go through without checking for criminal history is a measure that 90 percent of American people continue to support, including NRA members and gun owners. Who on earth is in favor of known criminals being able to purchase as many guns as they desire with no questions asked?
But for me, the most momentous action of the week was this from President Obama's New York Times editorial on January 7th:
Even as I continue to take every action possible as president, I will also take every action I can as a citizen. I will not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform. And if the 90 percent of Americans who do support common-sense gun reforms join me, we will elect the leadership we deserve.
Finally our President spells out exactly what each of us must do in every single election with every single candidate for local, legislative or statewide office. Those of you who keep asking what you can do to prevent gun violence, now have a powerful answer.
Each of us must proactively ask every single candidate who wants our vote where they stand on gun violence prevention. We cannot wait for candidates, regardless of party, to volunteer their stance when, at least in my home state of Missouri, many are silent. It must be our civic responsibility to demand answers from prospective elected officials on how they will advocate to save lives.
We must make gun violence prevention a major issue, if not our primary issue, when we show up on election days. In my state last year we suffered record breaking firearm homicides, negligent (accidental) shootings and suicides in our major cities. Currently Missouri ranks first in the nation in toddlers shooting a gun. Five babies just learning to walk pulled a firearm trigger killing themselves or others in 2015.
And yet, our legislature ignores specific pleas by St. Louis and Kansas City mayors, police chiefs and prosecutors to address our alarming rates of gun violence. Instead, our GOP-controlled legislature answers only to the gun lobby by advancing bills such as 2016 proposals allowing guns on college campuses, making firearms tax free and even a once a year gun sales tax holiday.
I have sponsored Missouri's universal background check bill (HB1596) every year since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting - which would close our current internet and gun show loophole. That measure which is supported by over 80% of Missourians fails to even get a public hearing, one of the first steps in the legislative process.
I feel everyone's frustration as the Republican party and conservative lawmakers in Congress and state legislatures refuse to consider overwhelmingly popular ideas such as making everyone undergo a simple background check before purchasing a gun. But we shouldn't be surprised when those same elected officials touted their "A" ratings by the National Rifle Association in their last election. It should also not surprise us that even with Americans losing 90 victims a day to gun violence, those controlled by the gun lobby refuse to change their spots.
The majority of state legislators are in partisan districts and are essentially elected in primary elections when most voters fail to show up. Many of us in Missouri fail to even have a general November opponent or one that has much of a chance to win. Most of us legislators are elected to office by less than 30% of registered voters in our districts. It's very clear to me that apathetic voters who stay home have given us the legislature we deserve.
The 2016 Missouri legislature gaveled back into session last week. I can assure you that being a presidential election year, only gun lobby sponsored bills will advance to the governor's desk. I can also sadly assure you that gun violence rates in our cities will continue to rise and we will horrifically lose more children.
As President Obama poignantly addressed, it is up to us. It is our responsibility to show up to vote and have the conviction, like him, to make gun violence prevention our priority.
I vow to do the same as President Obama. I will only endorse, campaign for, and vote for those, even in my own party, who make gun violence a priority.
Will you take action and vow to do the same?