Guns line the walls of the firearms reference collection at the Washington Metropolitan Police Department headquarters in Washington on Sept. 28, 2007. Most of the guns were seized during crimes. (AP)
An average of 83 Americans die every day from firearms in the United States. And the U.S. has the highest firearm homicide rates in the developed world.
Despite these numbers and the recent spate of deadly gun violence incidents, it’s not likely we’ll hear much about gun control from our presidential and congressional candidates. The popular position of most politicians falls somewhere between claiming that current gun laws are adequate and just need to be enforced, to deferring the responsibility to individual states. As a result we have inconsistent and insufficient gun laws.
In 33 states, criminals and terrorists can buy military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips from “private dealers” on the Internet or at gun shows without showing ID or completing a background check. No ID, no background check, no restrictions, no detection. It is perfectly legal for private gun dealers and individuals to sell an unlimited number of firearms to anyone, including domestic criminals and international terrorists, cash and carry.
In addition to neglecting public safety and contributing to the 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. each year, current gun laws fly in the face of public opinion. Most citizens, members of law enforcement, gun owners and even a majority of NRA members agree that we need more restrictive laws governing the buying and selling of firearms.
Consider these figures from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence:
- 94 percent of police chiefs favor requiring a criminal background check for all handgun sales
- 87 percent of Americans support background checks on private sales of guns, including sales at gun shows
- 83 percent of gun owners support background checks on private sales of guns, including sales at gun shows
- 69 percent of gun owners who belong to the NRA support requiring all gun sellers at gun shows to conduct criminal background checks of the people buying guns
There are several examples of successful legislative efforts to reduce gun violence, and real results that show the connection between restricted access to guns and reduced gun violence.
Between 1994 and 2004, under a federal assault weapons ban, there was a 66 percent reduction in assault weapons linked to crimes. (Assault weapons are the common denominator in every mass shooting because they can fire up to 100 rounds before reloading.) Since the ban expired, we have seen these military-style assault weapons come back into circulation. Previously banned guns like the AR-15, used in the Aurora massacre, are readily available to criminals and terrorists in the 33 states with lax gun control laws and at thousands of gun shows.
In Massachusetts, where we have some of the most effective gun laws, firearms kill three people per 100,000 each year, compared to the national average of 10 per 100,000. Despite being an urban industrial state, Massachusetts boasts the lowest firearm fatality rate in the nation.
Massachusetts is one of the few states to require gun training, licensing and registration, and consumer protection standards for firearm manufacturers, and is one of only 17 states that require criminal background checks for all gun sales. These tough gun laws strengthen the conclusion reached by the Violence Policy Center, which found that states with the lowest firearm fatality rates have more restrictive gun laws and lower gun ownership rates.
Even for those inclined to dispute the connection between easy gun access and high rates of gun violence, there is still no basis for claiming that we should make guns easier for criminals and terrorists to access without detection.
So why do we still have federal policies that are intended to increase access to guns by criminals? How can we not see the problem with allowing criminals and terrorists to legally buy guns without detection?
Unfortunately the answer is simple: Sadly, Congress is willing to ignore the need for effective gun violence prevention laws in exchange for tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the gun industry and the NRA.
What is it going to take for us to recognize the deadly reality of the situation and hold our elected officials accountable?
Current national gun laws that allow unrestricted and undetected gun access have resulted in more Americans being killed by guns in the past 40 years than all U.S. service men and women killed in all foreign wars combined.
Look at the facts and let your policymakers know that you’re paying attention to their unconscionable and dangerous gun policies.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.