10 Years After Columbine, Elected Officials Doing Nothing Is Not Working

Mass killings in the United States are not inevitable.

If they would have the political courage to create a safety net of gun violence prevention laws, America's elected officials could help keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people and thus reduce the total number of killed and wounded by gunfire every year in this country.

Let's be clear: mass shootings are symptoms of a vastly larger gun violence problem in America that we enable by our inaction and inattention. Our nation suffers over 30,000 gun deaths every year, including 12,000 firearm homicides. That's 32 gun murders a day - the same number murdered at Virginia Tech two years ago on April 16.

To understand how complacent we've become with a death toll that shocks the rest of the industrialized world, consider that England and Wales suffered just 52 gun murders total in the last reported year, according to the UK's Home Office. Yet here in America, mass shootings alone accounted for 57 firearm homicides in less than a month between March 10 and April 7.

At an average of 32 firearm homicides a day, that means another 871 gun murders went virtually unnoticed by the national, and often local, news media over that month.

If terrorists or pirates or even pistachios had killed even a fraction of that number of Americans last month, news coverage would be wall-to-wall, spurring citizens across the political spectrum to demand immediate action from President Obama and Congress.

As it stands, Americans murdering each other at this rate is largely ignored until a deranged person shoots and kills several Americans at the same time. Even then, most news coverage reacts like they do to a natural disaster that comes and goes and can't be controlled.

Most of what we hear from the politicians are pro forma words of sympathy, empty platitudes and weak promises to "enforce the laws on the books." Aside from the Brady Law, there are only a few weak, nearly non-existent laws on the books to prevent gun violence, so the basic response is: do nothing.

Meanwhile, the killing continues at its usual pace.

It doesn't have to be this way. Gun violence and mass killings are man-made problems that can be made less tragic with common sense answers immediately available to our elected officials.

To be clear, gun violence prevention isn't about any one gun law. It's about a system of nationwide laws that work together to reduce the total number of gun deaths and injuries by making it harder for dangerous people to get firearms, while respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

America lacks such a system today.

To address this, Congress should require criminal background checks for every gun sale in this country, including at gun shows, where criminals and gangsters can get anything from AK-47's to cheap semi-automatic pistols from unlicensed "private" sellers with no questions asked.

Next - as the shooting deaths of seven police officers over the last month bear tragic witness - Congress should restrict civilian access to military-style assault weapons.

Furthermore, Congress should limit the bulk sales of handguns and take other steps to disrupt the illegal firearms traffickers who supply the criminal gun market that plagues too many American communities.

These policies won't end all lethal violence in America, but they are a necessary step. With 30,000 Americans dead every year from gunfire, it is clear that doing nothing is not working.

(Note to readers: An edited version of this article appeared in last Friday's edition of the Nashville Tennessean. This entry, along with past entries, has been co-posted on bradycampaign.org/blog and the Huffington Post.)