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San Francisco Chronicle - No Excuses for Inaction on Gun Violence

Op-Ed

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By Jackie Speier

There is no perfect solution to curbing gun violence in this country. Even if we enact comprehensive background checks on gun buyers - which we must - opponents will argue that the wrong person will still be able to get a gun and kill. We can't allow this as an excuse to do nothing.

Arming school employees is ludicrous.

Maintaining the status quo is negligent.

Failure to impose tighter restrictions on who can obtain guns, and on the type of guns sold, will only increase the likelihood of another Newtown, another Aurora, another Virginia Tech.

The majority of people support requiring full background checks on weapon buyers. They support a ban on assault-type guns and high-capacity magazines, and tougher rules on gun trafficking. These and other steps will ensure a higher degree of safety at public places while preserving the right of individuals to own firearms for protection and sport.

Those who oppose any new requirements believe only that the government wants to disarm them - a complete falsehood promoted by the National Rifle Association to increase membership. NRA leaders, financially supported by gun manufacturers, have long used fear-mongering among members, and intimidation and money in Washington, to oppose reasonable gun safety laws. The NRA's rhetoric has fueled skyrocketing sales of guns, including assault weapons, in recent years.

Despite the NRA leaders' barrage, NRA members support responsible gun ownership and responsible gun dealers.

Monday, I and other members of a congressional gun violence prevention task force met with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss how the nation can respond to these shootings. Biden said the Obama administration is "focused on policy, not politics" and will consider issuing executive orders in addition to asking Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Biden wants existing laws that bar felons from having guns to be enforced to the fullest extent of the law. He wants to work with the states to perform comprehensive background checks and fully report disqualifying data to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The heavy lifting to get us there, however, is still in the unreliable hands of Congress.

Congress must expand those prohibited from owning guns to include terrorists and stalkers. It must close loopholes that exempt 40 percent of firearm sales from any background checks. (The "private sale" loophole includes the millions of guns sold every year at gun shows.) It must crack down on the 1 percent of gun dealers who sell 57 percent of the guns used by criminals.

The nation also needs to improve the recognition and treatment of individuals with mental illness.

We are at a turning point in our nation's history. Our freedom was made possible by a people's militia that defeated a professional army. But our proud heritage, captured in part by the Second Amendment, has been sullied by this modern-day fact: Over the past five years, the FBI reports, at least 774 people have died in mass killings, including 161 children under the age of 13. Bloodletting in America is out of control, and for too long we have talked and talked but done nothing to stop it.

I still have two bullets in me from the Jonestown horror. The miracle of survival doesn't give me any special right to decide gun rules, but it does give me the passion to try to protect innocent men, women and children from gun violence.
If Congress fails to act in the shadows of Newtown, then I challenge the voters to use their power at the polls to send representatives to Washington who truly want to protect us from gun violence.


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