It’s past time to ban the weapons of choice for mass killers

August 10, 2019

The blood spilled at Gilroy, at El Paso, at Dayton — the blood spilled in American cities day after day — compels us to act now to end gun violence.

For years, we’ve bargained downward. After 20 young children and their teachers were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., we pushed hard for universal background checks. After 49 died at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, we demanded that people on the terror watch list be denied the ability to buy guns. After 58 died in Las Vegas, we tried to pass a bill banning bump stocks.

Every single time, we were rebuffed by those lawmakers who put gunmakers’ profits and the National Rifle Association’s whims above our lives.

What’s particularly galling is that those reforms should be the floor from which we build, not the ceiling. We should take bolder action, including removing the weapons of choice for mass murder from our communities once and for all.

More than a year ago, I urged that we buy back every single military-style semiautomatic assault weapon in America. There is no place in our communities for these weapons of war, these low-recoil, high-capacity weapons firing high-velocity ammunition — a package designed to kill as many targets as quickly as possible.

At first I was told that this was too radical an idea, even though other nations have done it successfully. But since I made it a central part of my now-finished presidential campaign, the buyback has been embraced by other candidates including Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, and Amy Klobuchar.

The tide is turning, and those who stood in the way for so long are on the ropes now. After Parkland’s brave students took their grief into the streets to join with moms and other activists, we defeated 17 NRA-backed incumbents and built a new, diverse, younger House majority that won’t back down.

In its first 100 days, this House passed the first gun reform legislation in a generation. Now Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell flatly refuses to allow votes on these background-check bills or any other gun reforms.

It’s up to all of us to make the calls unignorable, the pressure irresistible, the political calculus incontestable for him to cease this deadly obstruction. And senators now seeking the Democratic presidential nomination should filibuster until we get those floor votes.

But that alone won’t do it. Let’s implement a system that automatically notifies state law enforcement when someone who is prohibited from purchasing a firearm tries to do so but is flagged during a background check. For those who pass the background check, let’s create a federal licensing program including a training program with both written and practical exams, as most states do with cars and hunters. Let’s require gun owners to buy liability insurance as states already require for automobiles. And let’s create a national firearm registry linked to individual firearms, with all purchases, transfers, and donations of firearms mandatorily registered.

We must address why much of the gun violence in America happens — the hopelessness that blankets so many communities. Victims and community leaders fighting for their neighborhoods recognize that by the time someone picks up a gun, layers upon layers of systemic injustice have already failed them. Ending gun violence requires investing in hope to prevent people from picking up a gun in the first place.

We need community-wide solutions in low-income neighborhoods: better health care, greater economic opportunity, adult literacy and educational programs, and quality-of-life improvements. Let’s fund after-school programs, youth development and gang-intervention programs. Let’s also expand mental health services for all Americans — it should never be easier for someone to get a gun than to receive counseling. Let’s make sure no woman, no child, no person ever must fear that their abuser has a gun.

And our federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies should pull out all the stops to neutralize a rising tide of domestic terrorism. Let’s increase FBI and Justice Department funding so law enforcement can combat violent white nationalism and boost Education Department funding to expand inclusiveness and diversity training and awareness for our kids.

However, we mustn’t be distracted or diverted. People in other nations grapple with mental health, play violent video games and share disturbing content on social media, yet those nations don’t have anywhere near the gun violence that America does. Our absurd oversupply of and far-too-easy access to firearms lies at the heart of this deadly problem.

No more bargaining downward, no more incrementalism. We know what the problems are, and we won’t be shouted down anymore by the bullying, tweeting minority. We must love our kids more than we love our guns. It’s time to act boldly and decisively to save our own lives.

Originally posted in the San Francisco Chronicle

Sign Up