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Letter to Vice President Biden: Gun Control and Gun Violence Task Force

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Today, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas submitted a letter to Vice President Joe Biden outlining her recommendations aimed at curbing gun violence in America.

The full text of the letter is pasted below this message.

Congresswoman Tsongas also announced today that she has joined the House Democratic Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, which will examine ways to reduce and prevent gun violence and compile a comprehensive set of policy proposals and legislative initiatives.

While the Congresswoman fully believes that law abiding citizens have a constitutional right to own firearms, whether for sport or personal protection, she feels that America's laws should be able to reasonably control gun manufacturing, sale, and usage to ensure that firearms are used safely and responsibly.

January 11, 2013

The Honorable Joseph Biden

Vice President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20501

Dear Mr. Vice President,

Every corner of America has been deeply affected by the tragic loss of so many lives in Newtown, Connecticut. We mourn for the enormity of their grief, the inconsolable loss visited upon Newtown's families.The senseless attacks at Sandy Hook Elementary School, at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and against Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords (D-AZ) and 18 others in Tucson raise compelling questions about the accessibility of violent weapons in our society. Our response to Newtown must not and cannot go the way of the many other senseless acts of violence we now witness almost routinely. I appreciate that you and President Obama also recognize that the tragedy in Newtown must be a call to action.

Members from both sides of the aisle have acknowledged that it is time for a conversation about the accessibility of high capacity weapons in our country and the culture of violence we live in. This conversation is long overdue. It is simply not an option to allow this discussion to become stagnant or to be bullied into silence by seemingly untouchable organizations.

To be clear, I believe that law abiding citizens have a constitutional right to own firearms, whether for sport or personal protection. The right of an individual to bear arms is clearly stated in the Second Amendment of our Constitution and has been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court. While I believe that the Constitution confers a right to own firearms, I also believe that our laws should be able to reasonably control gun manufacturing, sale, and usage to ensure that firearms are used safely and responsibly.

To that end, I offer the following policy recommendations that I hope will be included in your final report to President Obama.

1. Reinstate the federal ban on military-style, civilian assault weapons. Such a targeted ban would protect law enforcement and civilians by keeping these high capacity guns, which were not designed for hunting and have virtually no sporting purposes, off the streets. Since being elected to Congress, I have supported a federal assault weapons ban and plan to do so again once legislation is reintroduced in the 113th Congress

2. Ban large capacity feeding devices, also known as high capacity magazines. In order to best keep our law enforcement officials and our communities safe, I support prohibiting civilians from obtaining magazines, belts, drums, or similar devices that have a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition. High capacity magazines were used in the Newtown and Aurora massacres.

3. Strengthen mandatory background checks and close the private sale loophole. Under current law, private gun sellers are not required to conduct any background check on their buyers. I support the Fix Gun Check Act, which would require the federal government to send all necessary records on felons, drug abusers, and seriously mentally ill and other dangerous people to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It would also require an instant background check on every gun buyer, regardless if the purchase was made from a federal licensed seller or a private seller. According to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an estimated 40% of gun sales in 2012 were made through private purchasers, and roughly 6.6 million guns were sold without any background check.

4. Close the fire sale loophole that allows gun dealers who have had their licenses revoked to continue selling firearms. Under current law, when a gun dealer has their license revoked or denied renewal by the federal government, they are permitted to convert their gun inventory into a private collection to be sold without the requirement of performing a background check on the purchaser. While the majority of federally licensed dealers are legitimate businesses who work hard to keep their federal licensing, we cannot allow those who break the law to continue selling guns, with even less oversight and regulation.

5. Catalog and eliminate politically-motivated policy riders that prevent the federal government from collecting, sharing, and analyzing data on guns and gun-related violence. A series of policy riders, many tucked into large appropriations bills, have for years hampered the federal response to gun violence, preventing the ATF from effectively sharing gun trace data with localities or from requiring gun dealers to check their inventories against loss or theft; requiring the FBI to destroy background checks, making it difficult to track down improperly-approved buyers; and preventing the CDC and the NIH from conducting research into the effectiveness of gun violence prevention programs, among others. The public has the right to know the full extent to which such opaque riders have stymied federal efforts. A catalog of them and a comprehensive review of each is necessary for an informed public discussion.

In addition to these commonsense solutions, I hope to also see renewed effort to address our nation's mental health funding crisis. I urge the Administration to fully fund the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in its coming budget and take other steps to help communities identify and treat their troubled members. Preventing gun violence will take a comprehensive approach. Making sure that all options are part of the discussion must be part of that strategy.

Thank you again for your work on this issue. I look forward to your final recommendations to the President and working with you to reduce gun violence in our communities.

Sincerely,

Niki Tsongas

Member of Congress


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