Why I changed on guns and why Congress should too
The massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012 had a profound impact on how I would vote as a member of the U.S. Senate.
I was in Pittsburgh when the news broke on that awful Friday and later, as I traveled by car for over four hours between Pittsburgh and Scranton, the news from Connecticut worsened.
By the time I arrived home the world knew that 20 beautiful first graders and six adults had been murdered by a gunman carrying a high-powered military-style weapon that could fire bullets rapidly. During the weekend that followed, my wife, Terese, and our four daughters asked me a basic question: “How will you vote when gun bills come before the Senate?”
Up to that point in time, although the Senate had not voted on major gun bills in years, if asked, I would have said “passing new gun laws will not prevent mass shootings.” The indescribable horror of Newtown changed my view.
Shortly thereafter, I announced that I would support efforts to ban military-style weapons, limit the size of magazines and clips and support universal background checks on gun sales. In the spring of 2013, I voted in accordance with that point of view.
I have a newspaper clipping on my desk with stories of each of the children as a reminder of the work I believe our country needs to do in order to reduce the likelihood of mass shootings.
The story of one Newtown victim, six-year-old Caroline Previdi, has stayed with me. According to her obituary “Silly Caroline,” as she was nicknamed, “loved to draw and dance. Her smile brought happiness to everyone she touched.” She also took special care of a classmate, a boy named Logan, who was nervous about school. Caroline sat with Logan each day on the bus “so he wasn’t scared,” according to the boy’s mother.
This weekend, our nation awoke to news of yet another mass shooting and act of terror, this time in Orlando. We now know that this was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. We pray for the victims and their families. We stand in solidarity with the city of Orlando and the LGBT community.
Yet even as we take those appropriate steps, we must confront a difficult truth: these mass shootings have not abated.
We know that there’s no way to eliminate all instances of violence, but those of us in the Senate must ask: “Are there steps, consistent with the Second Amendment, that would substantially reduce the likelihood of another mass shooting?” I believe that the answer is “yes.”
The Senate should have a debate and a series of votes on several measures: a ban on military-style weapons; a limit on the size of magazines and clips; a measure to prevent those on the terror watch list from owning firearms; a proposal to stop those convicted of hate crimes from possessing guns; and universal background checks.
The availability of military-style weapons that can fire a large number of bullets in rapid succession makes shootings exponentially more deadly. How many lives might have been saved if the shooters in Newtown and Orlando weren’t able to fire hundreds of bullets in a matter of seconds? These are weapons that belong on the battlefield, not in our communities.
We must end the absurd loophole that allows for gun ownership by those deemed too dangerous to fly by law enforcement. I introduced the Hate Crimes Prevention Act because if someone has proven they will commit criminal acts based on hate, even a misdemeanor, then that person absolutely should not have access to a gun. It’s common sense. And anyone seeking to purchase a weapon should undergo a background check so guns do not fall into the hands of those who have been convicted of violent crimes.
There are a substantial number of steps our nation needs to take to keep America safe. Some of those steps involve funding for law enforcement; upgrades to homeland security; and an intensification of efforts to identify, target and eliminate terrorists and the groups like ISIS that support them.
Despite considerable efforts by law enforcement, we can’t always identify a would-be terrorist before he or she acts. But we can make it significantly more difficult for someone committed to violence to unleash the weapons of war on our streets.
The scourge of gun violence from the daily shootings in our inner cities to the most widely reported instances, like Orlando, has taken a significant toll on our nation.
We can respect the rights of those who seek to own guns for hunting, sport and self-protection while making it more difficult for violent criminals to get their hands on them.
Originally published at www.washingtonpost.com on June 14, 2016.