Shame on Congress -- Renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban!

With the dust settling from the Aurora tragedy, and both presidential candidates eager to return to safe campaigning grounds, it seems that the message might again be lost, and gun laws will remain an untouched political issue.
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The problem is clear. And the solution should be just as clear. But with the dust settling from the Aurora tragedy, and both presidential candidates eager to return to safe campaigning grounds, it seems that the message might again be lost, and gun laws will remain an untouched political issue.

We shouldn't be surprised that the presidential candidates are calling for a time of mourning, not a time of reform, or that Congress is ducking its cowardly head and waiting for the media spotlight to pass. We shouldn't be surprised that this incident, like every other mass shooting in the past decade, has failed to spark progressive changes in gun laws.

In fact we shouldn't be surprised that this incident occurred at all. What can we expect in a country that allows a person to legally acquire an arsenal of weapons and ammunition of a murderous magnitude? No one should be surprised that unrestricted access to guns leads to unimaginable violence. With military combat-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips readily available to virtually anybody without even a background check or ID, unnecessary deaths become routine and fear becomes the norm. And when Congress doesn't lift a pen or even acknowledge the need for change, it sends the message that this is an acceptable reality and leave many Americans feeling that public safety means being prepared to open fire whenever they feel threatened.

But what if Congress did have a spine and it did value public safety over private interests and its political future? What kind of regulation would reduce gun violence? And where is the evidence? The data is clear and strongly confirms any common sense hypothesis. Easy access to guns equals more violence.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, between the years of 1994 and 2004 under the federal ban on assault weapons, there was a 66 percent reduction in assault weapons being linked to crimes. It's simple: assault rifles are often the weapon of choice for gang members and mass murderers, so remove them from the legal gun trade.

In 2004, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney signed a permanent state ban on assault weapons and said they "have no place in Massachusetts. These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people."

In addition to restricting assault weapons, Massachusetts has some of the most effective laws controlling access to firearms and despite being an urban industrial state, it boasts the lowest firearm fatality rate in the nation. Massachusetts is one of the only states to require gun licensing, registration and training, the first state to require consumer protection standards for firearms, and is one of 17 states that require criminal background checks. In Massachusetts, firearms kill three out of 100,000 people each year, compared to national average of 10 out of 100,000, a difference that can only suggest that restricting access to gun reduces the likelihood of gun violence.

But outside of Massachusetts and other progressive pockets, 33 states, including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont make guns readily available from private dealers without ID or background checks. Not only do these states have remarkably higher firearm fatality rates, but they undermine stricter, more responsible laws in bordering states. Of the guns used in crimes in Massachusetts, 80 percent of them come from out of state where they are more easily accessible.

We need uniformity, because gun laws are less effective on a on a state-by-state basis. We need firm national consumer protection standards that treat guns as the dangerous products that they are. We need to make it harder for guns to circulate freely and end up in the wrong hands by requiring background checks in all states. We need to renew the federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. We can no longer accept the irresponsible and dangerous gun policies dictated by the NRA that allow 83 Americans to be killed by guns every day and have made mass killings commonplace in our supposedly civilized society.

We must hold Congress accountable. We shouldn't let money and backwards ideologies run our government and hide the facts from the public: gun violence prevention laws are a "no brainer"; they save and protect lives, while reducing crime. Yet we watch idly while Congress collects tens of millions in special-interest blood money in the form of campaign contributions and 150 more Americans are shot today and every day. Congress should be forced to accept responsibility for making this country safer, and they should recognize that they are accountable for the 30,000 Americans killed by guns every year. And if they don't, shame on them. Shame on Congress.

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