It is difficult just to keep up with the rate of death from guns, whether it be mass murder, suicide, accidents, domestic violence, or police shootings (those of police and by police officers). Every year, 117,000 Americans are shot. More than 30,000 die, of whom more than half have committed suicide. Our nation is buffeted by mass murder and viral videos that one day depict the slaughter of innocents and/or seem to incriminate those who are supposed to protect us, and the next day show us police being assassinated. In between we see clips of toddlers wielding guns found in a drawer or a handbag that end up killing siblings and parents. Talk of more "conversation" seems futile and effective action beyond reach. It would be very easy to find it all so overwhelming that we retreat and give up.
But there is ongoing pressure to fix our society by, among other things, better training police and passing common sense gun regulation -- the other side of the equation. Before the last dreadful weeks, a sort of filibuster in the Senate gained enough strength to force votes on Democrat and Republican efforts to require gun sellers to conduct background checks on all gun sales, and to close the terror gap by preventing known or suspected terrorists on the FBI's terror watch list from buying firearms or explosives. Prevented by leadership from voting in the US House of Representatives, Reps. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and John Lewis (D-GA) led a sit-in for more than 24 hours in the well of the House itself to press for votes on similar legislation as well as other common sense gun safety measures. The Senate votes failed and the House leadership has yet to allow such a vote, but the rebellion has reenergized the movement to end gun violence.
The two measures considered by the Senate -- requiring universal background checks for all gun sales and closing the terror gap -- have picked up steam. In October, a CBS News/New York Times poll found that 92 percent of Americans -- including 87 percent of Republicans -- favor background checks for all gun buyers. It is estimated that 40 percent of gun sales occur without a background check because of the private sale loophole, which exempts sales through gun shows, classified ads, and online sites. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence notes that, for example, in September 2013 about 67,000 firearms were listed for sale online from private, unlicensed sellers. And the sellers are not all just individuals looking to sell the occasional gun. On Armslist.com, one well-used website that exists to facilitate gun sales, three out of ten ads by private sellers were posted by individuals who placed five or more ads over an eight-week period. They appear to be selling guns as a side business. New York City found that three-fifths of private online firearm sellers agreed to sell to a buyer who told the seller upfront that he or she probably could not pass a background check.
Perhaps the most ludicrous instance of existing gun regulation, or non-regulation, is that a person considered too dangerous or suspicious to be allowed to board a commercial airplane is nevertheless permitted by federal law to purchase a gun. Senator Angus King (I-ME) remarked in effect that it hardly made sense to fight terrorism in the Middle East while a professed terrorist could buy guns legally in the United States to use against us, as long that person had never been convicted of a felony.
Just recently, on the evening the House adjourned until September, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and members of the House Democratic Caucus held a national speak out, "Lighting the Way," calling for a path forward on gun violence including passage of these two common sense measures. While our lawmakers are home, we must continue to focus on the epidemic of gun violence in our nation and remind our communities about the importance of voting for candidates who support gun safety -- not just with words, but with actions. When enough people use the ballot box to threaten the careers of politicians who refuse to act, change will come. When people begin voting based on that conviction, the outcome of votes in Congress will change.