Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and families touched by the recent gun violence at Northern Illinois University. At a time when the country confronts one mass shooting after another -- six separate multiple murders across the country in just the first two weeks of February -- the nation is faced with a critical choice:
Do we give up and say we can't do anything about these tragedies? Or do we take common-sense steps today to make it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons?
Every day in America, 32 people are murdered with guns. That's a daily Virginia Tech. This tragic figure is not due to natural or mysterious forces beyond our control. People cause this problem and people can fix it.
Over the years, the Brady Campaign has proposed numerous common-sense measures to reduce and prevent gun violence. It may be difficult to stop "suicide shooters" like the Northern Illinois University killer, but there are steps we can take as a nation.
We can require background checks for every gun transaction in America. Current federal law requires that only federally licensed gun dealers do a computer check on the criminal backgrounds of purchasers who buy guns from them. Yet there is no such restriction on unlicensed sellers who sell guns at gun shows, from the trunk of their cars or at their kitchen tables. If we want to make it harder to dangerous people to get dangerous weapons, we must close this loophole, and require that all gun buyers undergo a background check.
We can limit bulk purchases of handguns to cut down on the illegal gun trade [pdf]. Gun buyers currently have no federal limits on the number of guns they can buy at one time. Gun traffickers take advantage of the unlimited number of guns they can purchase at a time in order to sell guns to criminals and gangs. Combine this weakness in the law with the use of "straw purchasers" or with unlicensed sellers, and a gun trafficker can buy dozens of cheap handguns at a time and re-sell them on the street at a hefty markup. Who personally needs more than 12 or even 24 handguns per year? We should limit bulk purchases of handguns to cut down on gun trafficking and the supply of weapons to the illegal market.
We can also ban the sale of military-style assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. One thing the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University shooters had in common was that they both used high capacity ammunition magazines that would have been prohibited under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004. Furthermore, there is no reason that weapons of war should be made easily available to citizens who are not police officers or in the military. We should support our local law enforcement officers as they put their lives on the line to protect ours, and reduce the chances that they will be out-gunned on our streets by these high-powered firearms.
The Northern Illinois University shooting happened on the anniversary of Chicago's "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," February 14, 1929, and a day before the anniversary of the attempted assassination of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the killing of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak on February 15, 1933. Those events led to one of the few gun control laws still on the books, the National Firearms Act of 1934. Our recent gun violence should also lead us to take action.
As we grieve with the victims and families of this latest mass shooting, I call on college and university presidents across America to join with us in demanding that candidates for president, the U.S. Congress, and state legislatures across the country support meaningful action to prevent gun violence, such as the measures listed above.
Our gun laws today are tragically weak. Much more could be done to help make our schools and communities safer.