On Wednesday, 17 high schoolers, teachers, and coaches were shot and killed at Parkland High School. It was the 17th school shooting in the first six weeks of the year, and the deadliest since the massacre at
Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Attacks like this are devastatingly foreseeable. There have been nearly 300 school shootings in America since that day in Newtown five years ago. On any given day, 96 Americans are killed with guns, including seven children and teens. If we accept these deaths as the status quo, we’re insulting their memories. This does not have to become part of daily life in America.
As a combat veteran, I’m a supporter of our right to keep and bear arms. This isn’t about confiscating or registering anyone’s guns. It’s just that, like 95 percent of Americans, I believe we can respect the Second Amendment while also doing more to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. Here are just a few measures I think we can all get behind.
First, we need to stop criminals and domestic abusers from buying guns.
Requiring a criminal background check on all gun sales is the single most effective way to stop gun murders. These checks are already required on gun sales by licensed firearm dealers, and since that law was passed, more than three million gun sales to felons, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill have been blocked.
But a loophole in that law allows unlicensed dealers to sell guns without a background checks. This is important because when the background check law was passed in 1994, the internet didn’t exist. Today, criminals and other dangerous people can easily meet strangers on internet message boards and buy guns, without undergoing a background check.
The background check law must be updated for the internet age. This update produces big results: 19 states, including New York, already require background checks on all gun sales, and these states see significantly less gun violence than the rest of the country. In these states, 53% fewer law enforcement officers are shot and killed in the line of duty, and 47% fewer women are shot to death by abusive partners.
Second, we need to protect women and children by closing the Boyfriend Loophole. Men who beat up their partners shouldn’t have guns, period: when a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, it increases the risk the woman will be killed fivefold. That’s why federal law prohibits convicted domestic abusers from buying or possessing guns.
But that only applies to people who are married to the person they abused. If a man is convicted for say, beating up and threatening to kill his live-in girlfriend, there’s nothing in the law to stop him from buying a gun. If we’re going to build a fairer, equal, and more just America, our laws can no longer leave women and children disproportionately vulnerable to the threat of gun violence.
Third, we need to empower law enforcement and families to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts. Every day, 58 Americans kill themselves with a gun. This issue is especially important to me, because veterans are at a heightened risk for suicide, particularly firearm suicide: the veteran suicide rate is 22 percent higher than the civilian rate, and two-thirds of veteran suicides are gun suicides. Temporarily removing a suicidal person’s access to guns during a mental health crisis is likely to save their life.
We need to pass legislation that allows for Extreme Risk Protection Orders. These orders allow a court to temporarily remove guns from a suicidal person if immediate family members or police officers present compelling evidence that the person is in crisis. One study found that a similar law in Connecticut averted 72 suicides.
Five months ago, the Parkland High School shooter was reported to the FBI after he said he was “going to be a professional school shooter.” He was also reportedly abusive towards an ex-girlfriend, and was expelled after getting in a fight with her new boyfriend. An Extreme Risk Protection Order policy could have stopped him from buying or having his guns, and might have prevented Wednesday’s tragedy.
Fourth, we need to stop illegal gun trafficking. Every day, thousands of responsible, professional gun dealers “engage in the business” of selling firearms. These sellers must be licensed and conduct background checks on all of their sales. That same law also allows private individuals to sell their personal guns occasionally, without a license or a background check.
But there are bad actors giving responsible gun owners a bad name by using it as a loophole to sell hundreds or even thousands of guns every year, without conducting background checks. Many of these guns wind up used in major crimes, and in shootings of police officers.
We need legislation to clarify the “engaged in the business” standard – if you sell a high number of guns per year, you’ll have to get a license and conduct background checks on those sales. Period. That’s how we’ll slow the supply of guns to gangs and violent criminals, and keep our families safe.
Finally, it’s time to ban the AR-15 and other assault rifles from being sold. Weapons of war have no place on our streets. Period. End of Story.
The only people who oppose these common-sense measures are the NRA leadership and other members of the gun lobby. Let’s be clear though: the NRA leaders aren’t standing up for responsible gun owners, they’re looking to protect their profit margin even as our children die in one mass shooting after another.
We can’t put this fight off any longer, because lives are at stake. We need representatives with the courage to put the lives of women, veterans, law enforcement officers, and children above special interest money. It’s time we demand politicians demonstrate courage and the resolve to work together overcome the gun lobby. We don’t need to agree on every solution to preventing gun violence. This is a diverse, and large country. But, surely these are common sense issues we can unite around. So, together let’s ensure no parent ever again has to send their child to school and wonder if they’ll come home alive. We owe it to the families of Parkland, of Sandy Hook, and too many other towns too even name here.
Max Rose is an army veteran and Democratic candidate for Congress in New York’s 11th Congressional District. He also worked as a special assistant and the Director of Public Engagement for the late-Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.