Make Concerns of Gun Violence Victims a Priority

Elected officials must consider the awesome responsibility of the jobs they've been entrusted to do. Talk to victims, survivors, and law enforcement about the all too pervasive and underreported tragedy of gun violence. And then do something to halt it.
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Pat Craig is the aunt of Ryan Clark, a wonderful 22-year-old who was killed in the Virginia Tech Massacre on April 16, 2007. She recently sent a message to elected officials in a video. "Being in a leadership position is an awesome responsibility," she said. "But when you stand up to say 'I will,' then those of us who put you there expect you 'to do.' "

Craig, an outspoken Brady Campaign supporter, continued, "If you're unsure of what it is you can do, should do -- ask any of the victims..."

Craig appealed to elected officials to talk to gun violence victims because she understands that, too often, our lawmakers forget about the struggles of the people who put them in office. Her appeal resonates especially now as we reflect on the troubling trend of the "guns everywhere" lobby to force loaded guns into more and more places. Four states that passed laws this year allowing people to carry loaded, concealed firearms into bars and restaurants provide a fresh example.

Most Americans don't want to eat, drink, or socialize next to people packing heat. Surveys indicate that 70 percent are unnerved by this reckless idea. Restaurant and bar owners, as well as their employees, are opposed as well. A waiter in Tennessee recently sued the state for creating an occupational safety hazard with its new law agreeing to guns in bars.

And yet, Arizona, Georgia, and Virginia lawmakers also ignored their constituents' concerns, along with the objections of our law enforcement professionals, and sanctioned the carrying of concealed guns in places that serve alcohol. The requirements that have to be met to carry a gun vary widely among states. Some demand hours of face-to-face training. Others don't. No state requires passing a Brady criminal background check to obtain a concealed carry permit, and sadly, it is all too easy for a gun to be sold legally without doing a Brady background check.

What's also fairly consistent is that gun carriers are forbidden from drinking alcohol. (Georgia is one exception.) But that caveat seems to have been added with a wink and a nod. Just weeks after Virginia's law took effect, a Lynchburg man went into a bar and ordered a mug of beer. His hidden gun fell and discharged, accidentally shooting him in the leg. Luckily, no one was killed. But hardly a day goes by in America without some "law-abiding," gun-toting citizen breaking the law and snuffing out lives.

Richard Poplawski, a white supremacist armed with an AK-47, was arrested for murdering three Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania police officers in April last year on his front porch. He was a concealed carry permit-holder.

Michael McLendon was the "suicide shooter" who went on a rampage through the small towns of Kinson and Samson, Alabama in March of 2008, murdering 10 people before killing himself. He, too, was a concealed carry permit-holder.

We've also seen that what happens in the states doesn't always stay in the states. In July 2009, Congress took up a vote on the so-called Respecting States' Rights and Concealed Reciprocity Act. It would have let people from states with the weakest gun laws carry hidden, loaded weapons in states with much stronger gun laws. When it comes to who is too dangerous to legally carry a gun, it seems as if state decisions on the matter got no respect.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota brought us this mind-boggling legislation, known as the Thune Amendment. It was attached to the Department of Defense appropriations authorization bill. We thank the many senators, including Richard Durbin of Illinois, Dianne Feinstein of California, Charles Schumer of New York and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and our supporters, who helped block it.

But senseless bills like this are pressed repeatedly in Congress by lobbyists for the gun-pushers. Granting untrained, under-trained, emotionally unstable or impulsive people permission to carry loaded handguns in public jeopardizes our safety. It also makes it harder for law enforcement to do their jobs -- and I.D. the real perpetrators during a shooting.

More guns in more places mean more gun violence. As the former mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana, I enthusiastically join Pat Craig's plea to elected officials on the Hill, and at every level, to consider the awesome responsibility of the jobs they've been entrusted to do. Talk to victims, survivors, and law enforcement about the all too pervasive and underreported tragedy of gun violence. And then do something, something meaningful, to halt it. The Brady Campaign and the American people are here to help you get started.

Paul Helmke is president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Follow the Brady Campaign on Facebook and Twitter.

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