I do not need to restate it… the American people are all too aware of the problem. In a nation with over 300 million people, there are sick individuals that inflict terrible damage on innocent people. Whether it’s a high profile shooting like the tragedy in El Paso and Dayton this weekend or the daily gun violence in Chicago just north of my hometown, we have become numb to this senselessness. After every shooting, the conversation runs like a broken record with some who believe banning all guns is the answer, while others advocate for arming more and more people to protect against these dangers. Meanwhile those of us not in those two mindsets are left feeling helpless, frustrated, and at a loss. We have a gun violence epidemic, and to address it, we need to change some laws and change some hearts.
Both sides of this debate mean well and are equally horrified when these tragedies occur. But instead of discussing real solutions, politics infects the discourse and distrust between each other becomes ever more pronounced. Both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. As a Congressman, I feel the heat on all ends of this debate and I see the validity of both sides. It’s part of my job to weigh in on these issues, and here’s what I think:
The ‘red flag laws’ are important to preventing gun violence and I believe more states should adopt these laws that place protective orders on those with mental issues, ensuring they cannot be a harm to themselves or others. In addition to these laws, I believe it’s time for universal background checks for gun purchases, raising the age to 21 to purchase a firearm, and banning certain high capacity magazines, like the 100-round drum the Dayton shooter used this weekend.
First, background checks already occur in most gun purchases, and are not a hindrance to legal purchase. We also need to ensure that accurate and timely information is reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which was a major failing in the case of the Sutherland Springs church shooting in Texas. This change might create a slight inconvenience to some, but will not restrict the rights of those who are eligible to purchase.
The second change I’m calling for is more controversial, but too important to shy away from any longer: raising the age of gun purchase to 21. In the 1980s, the United States enforced 21 as the age to consume alcohol and today, authorities are on the verge of making 21 the age for purchasing tobacco products. I have my disagreements with some of that rational, but I think in the case of gun purchases, there is significant merit in raising the age limit.
Under current law, a U.S. citizen must be 21 to purchase a handgun. Initially the thought was that shotguns and assorted hunting rifles would still be available for younger Americans, and I don’t disagree. States should be able to create exceptions for some shotguns for hunting purposes. However, this provision has allowed many legal purchases of semi-automatic rifles by soon-to-be mass shooters. Particularly in school shootings, the assassins are often enrolled in the school, recently graduated, or expelled. In some cases, a grudge is carried out with legally purchased weapons. An adolescent, high school fueled grudge is much less likely to survive over the three years between the end of high school and the time of legal age of purchase.
With this change, it’s important to note that members of the military can still use arms assigned to them, as those under age 21 who carry pistols as part of their job still legally do. Military members go through plenty of training, not only on how to use a gun, but the moral reasons behind its use and the restraint of its use. They are briefed in what constitutes a moral and immoral order, as well as a legal combatant and an illegal one.
These changes will certainly help, but they won’t solve the core issue we face. Violence is in the heart of these tragic shootings, and we cannot create laws to detect or deter evil. This violence is whispered in ears, watched on television, played online through interactive games, and it grows into action. Whether it’s a mass shooting, domestic violence, or any other similar act, the reality is that evil exists. When people are told that there is no life after death, no accountability to God, and have no hope when life feels miserable, people succumb to the sadness, despair, and violence. We need to recognize this reality. It may offend some, but the denial of this reality is an affront to the very clear facts in front of us. It is a huge issue and banning guns will not change the underlying issues of evil, violence, and mental illness.
People are turning to social media for a fix, only to be left empty. Fame is sought as a salve to pain, but fame doesn’t sooth. We are looking for more, never feel like we have enough, and we shout words into the void of the internet just to feel a connection or a relevance. And on that note, I believe it’s time for the media to do a better job in serving the public rather than serving their numbers and their bottom line. News outlets need to stop naming mass shooters, showing pictures of them, publishing their insane manifestos, and unintentionally glorifying them to otherwise insane and desperate people. We know this leads to copycats, so rather than seeking more click-bait, let’s focus on the victims and pulling together for the communities.
To be clear, I firmly believe in the right to keep and bear arms, legally. I’m also a strong advocate for conceal carry. I learned firsthand in 2006 during an encounter in Milwaukee that being able to protect yourself is critical. My ability to carry a firearm doesn’t just keep me safe, it gives innocent people near me a layer of protection and a fighting chance to survive. As we look at the issue of gun violence, we know we cannot change what has happened, but we can work together to get a handle on this crisis moving forward without fully disrupting our constitutional rights.
I believe if we actually take the steps of instituting universal background checks and raising the gun purchase age, if we can all recognize the existence of real evil and focus again on respecting each other, and for the love of God quit naming and showing the shooters, we can and will make a real impact. I also believe that when it comes to dealing with the evildoers, those who actively choose to target others and use violence to advance political aims, we must hold them accountable for their crimes just as we do terrorists. Those evildoers like the Antifa activists in Oregon and the Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and this shooter in El Paso are sowing domestic terrorism. In the face of the evil that threatens the fabric of what this nation stands for, we must unite and stand against such hatred.
The choice is ours to move forward where we can find agreement in what we stand for, or we can continue to argue and let hate take over. I hope we choose the former, I fear the latter, but I pray for us to come together as a nation. We are all made in God’s image and it’s on each of us to stand against those who would tear us apart. It’s a choice for each of us to make — I know what mine is and whatever it may cost me, I’m prepared to stand behind it, working for a better tomorrow and a safer future for our children.