Opinion Columns & Blogs

Viewpoints: After Sandy Hook shooting, people said something must be done

A year ago today, I was duck hunting in California when my phone buzzed with a breaking news alert. There had been a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. As the hours unfolded, more details surfaced. Twenty children – all of them 6 or 7 years old – and six adults had been gunned down in a senseless act of violence.

In the days and weeks that followed the shooting, we pledged to never forget. We said this time would be different. We said that something must be done.

It has now been a year. In that year, more than 10,000 people have been killed by someone using a gun. And in the U.S. House of Representatives, the majority party hasn’t allowed a single vote to prevent further acts of gun violence.

It’s not because there hasn’t been a bill on which to vote. I have written and introduced bipartisan legislation expanding comprehensive and enforceable criminal background checks to cover commercial firearm sales such as those at gun shows and over the Internet. It is the same legislation that was authored by A-rated NRA Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and supported by a bipartisan majority in the Senate.

Sixteen states, including California, already require criminal background checks at gun shows and for Internet sales. However, the 34 other states require checks only for purchases made through a licensed gun dealer. That means criminals in California can drive across the state line, load up with guns at a gun show, then drive back into our state.

If my bill was passed, criminals, terrorists, domestic abusers, the dangerously mentally ill and other prohibited purchasers wouldn’t be able to bypass a background check by simply going online or to a gun show.

People on all sides of the gun-violence-prevention issue have said their goal is to keep guns out of dangerous hands. But you cannot achieve this goal without background checks. Background checks are the only way of knowing if a person buying a gun is a criminal, a terrorist or dangerously mentally ill.

The evidence shows background checks work when they are used. Nationally last year, background checks identified and denied 88,000 sales to prohibited purchasers at licensed dealers.

However, there is no way of knowing if those 88,000 prohibited purchasers, after being denied at a licensed dealer, then bought a gun at a gun show or over the Internet with no questions asked.

This is a huge loophole that costs lives.

You don’t have to look any further than the sister of my State of the Union guest Elvin Daniel to see this is true. Elvin’s sister Zina had a restraining order against her husband which prevented him from passing a background check. Nevertheless, Zina’s husband was able to go online and buy a .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun with which he killed Zina and two others in Wisconsin.

The House majority has refused to allow a vote on my legislation to close this loophole. While they know 90 percent of the American public supports background checks, they fear a vote in favor of my legislation would upset their extreme-right base and cause political backlash from the beltway NRA. This political calculus has trumped voting on legislation that will help save lives.

Critics of my legislation have used multiple arguments to justify their inaction. They have argued that it’s unnecessary because criminals will never submit to a background check. Under my bill, if a criminal is trying to buy a gun online or at a gun show and are unwilling or unable to pass a background check then they will not get a gun. This drastically reduces the number of places criminals can easily access guns.

Critics have also called my bill anti-Second Amendment. It is not. I am a gun owner and support the rights of lawful Americans to own firearms.

In reality, my bill is pro-Second Amendment. It provides reasonable exceptions so people won’t have to get a background check if they inherit a family rifle, borrow a shotgun for a hunting trip, or purchase a gun from a friend, a hunting buddy or neighbor. It bans the creation of a federal registry. It allows active-duty military to buy firearms in their home states and the state in which they are stationed. And it authorizes the use of a recent state concealed carry permit in lieu of a background check.

There are 187 members of Congress who have co-sponsored my background checks bill. More have said they would vote for the bill.

Why hasn’t it been put up for a vote? Why isn’t every member of Congress a co-sponsor of an anti-criminal, pro-Second Amendment bill that strengthens gun rights and saves lives? Those are questions every constituent should ask their representative in Congress.

Shortly after hearing of the tragic news in Newtown, we learned about the heroism of a teacher named Victoria Soto. After hearing gunshots, she hid her students in a closet and put her body in between them and the gunman. Victoria was shot and killed, but she saved the lives of all the kids in her classroom.

At 27, she was brave enough to give her life. The House majority should be brave enough to give her a vote.