By Paul Helmke
What America has been doing to prevent gun violence isn’t working. It’s not enough. And if we’re going to change what we’ve been doing, we have to talk about what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s ugly about America’s approach and policies.
After the shocking mass shooting in Tucson on January 8, we called on the Obama Administration to begin a conversation about the issue of gun violence in America. Finally, nine weeks later – after 2,000 more gun murders, a spike in the shootings of police officers, and a flood of guns being illegally trafficked, not only to Mexico, but also to cities throughout this country – the Obama Administration has told us that it’s paying attention to the frequent deaths and injuries facilitated by the all too easy access to guns.
Last Sunday, President Obama delivered a statement on gun violence prevention in an op-ed published in the Arizona Daily Star. He affirmed his belief in the Second Amendment, while also recognizing that because of gun violence, “every single day, America is robbed of more futures…And as a society, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to put a stop to it.”
“I’m willing to bet that responsible, law-abiding gun owners agree that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few – dangerous criminals and fugitives, for example – from getting their hands on a gun in the first place,” the President also declared.
On Tuesday, I attended a meeting at the U.S. Department of Justice with representatives from the White House, the Vice-President’s office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the FBI, and others from the Obama Administration, along with leaders from the gun violence prevention movement, to discuss how to reach the goals outlined in the President’s statement. Officials from the Administration indicated that this was the first of what they hoped would be a series of discussions. They said they had not settled on, or excluded, any relevant proposals.
I began the discussion by listing basic measures that the Brady Campaign, and others, felt could make a difference. The list included: a strong background check system, with good and complete records of dangerous and irresponsible people, applicable to all commercial gun sales; more tools for law enforcement to stop trafficking in illegal guns; increasing the number and type of military-style weapons, including “assault clips,” that should not be readily available to civilians, like machine-guns and fully automatic weapons. Administration officials then asked questions. My colleagues and I gave examples and arguments for legislative, administrative, and voluntary policies that could help reduce the bloodshed.
The meeting lasted more than 90 minutes. Having this many Administration representatives spend this much time on this initial meeting signaled to me that the President is serious. He wants to do something meaningful about gun violence. After meeting with others, including law enforcement and “gun rights” groups, Obama’s representatives will be presenting specific proposals. We hope those will include all the “sound and effective steps” that the President called for in his statement.
Sadly, National Rifle Association Boss Wayne LaPierre has decided that he and the leadership of his organization aren’t willing even to engage with the Obama Administration or the rest of the nation in a conversation about what can be done to reduce the tremendous loss of life that we Amercians suffer from gun violence. Solving challenges begins with a frank discussion – and that’s what we need – not posturing that allows the situation to get worse.
Regardless of party or ideology, Americans of all backgrounds and circumstances should be working on “preventing future bloodshed” and forging “a nation worthy of our children’s futures,” as the President said.
I thank President Obama for making the most significant presidential statement on gun violence in a decade and for starting this conversation. I’m hopeful that we will engage the nation and Congress around sound and serious ideas of how to protect more Americans from the threat of gun violence. And after the talking, then we need action.