Each holiday season, I participate in toy giveaways for needy families. These are always events that remind us of the innocence and joy of children. But this Saturday, as I handed out wrapped presents in Boyle Heights, I was haunted by an image of presents that would forever remain unopened under Newtown, Connecticut Christmas trees.
The national tragedy in Newtown is horrific. The lack of action from Washington on guns is unacceptable.
Many states have taken action. California received the number-one ranking on the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence scorecard for the toughest gun laws in the United States. And we are seeing concrete results. The Sacramento Bee reports that "since 1993, California's mortality rate from gun-related deaths has declined 20 percent more than the rest of the nation," and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence reports that California now has one of the lowest gun death rates in the nation.
Many cities have taken action, too. Los Angeles has seen violence driven down to levels last seen in the 1950s. Thanks to strong local advocates, our city has some of the toughest gun and ammunition laws in the country. Our work to take illegal guns off the street and crack down on gun owners who flaunt the law is critical to our violence prevention efforts.
But guns and ammunition cross city limits and state lines just as easily as the people who transport them. The only solution is a national solution. I'm proud that our state is represented by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the leading voice in Congress on the issue of gun violence. Senator Feinstein was the original author of the groundbreaking national Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004. She is reintroducing it at the start of the new Congress and plans to ensure that the weapons used in Newtown and in other massacres like that in Aurora, Colorado, are covered in the ban. Americans must make it clear to their elected representatives that anything less than swift passage is intolerable. Here in Los Angeles, I've organized a petition drive to demonstrate our strong support.
Passing the ban must not mark the culmination of our efforts to protect our families from gun violence. It should, rather, serve as the springboard for comprehensive action.
We must lay out a clear strategy with clear priorities. We must focus on those initiatives that have the greatest impact, including universal background checks for all gun purchases, even those at gun shows; banning high capacity gun magazines as championed by Congresswoman McCarthy; requiring microstamping of ammunition; stopping illegal gun purchases through middlemen; and focusing on school safety programs that detect and stop threats before they are carried out. We must also increase access to mental health services, particularly for young adults who need it the most. As a community, we must remove the stigma attached to mental health treatment.
All of us who believe in national, common sense gun laws must stay committed and keep focused when the political spotlight inevitably shifts away. Otherwise, the gun lobby will once again wait us out and defeat us in the shadows like they have done time and time again.