Chapel Hill: Opinion

U.S. Rep. David Price urges meaningful gun violence legislation

Editor’s note: U.S. Rep. David E. Price, D-Chapel Hill, vice chair of the House Democrats’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, gave the following remarks on the House floor Thursday.

I rise today as a vice chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and in solidarity with the majority of Americans who are demanding that Congress take meaningful action to prevent gun violence.

We all know the statistics. Whether it’s through mass shootings that make the headlines, or the unseen violence that happens daily in our districts, gun violence takes the lives of more than 30,000 of our nation’s citizens each year, a number that far exceeds other industrial nations. All have their share of violent extremists and madmen, but none have our easy access to weapons of mass killing. And that makes all the difference for America.

Rather than seeking out common-sense solutions to address this crisis, the Republican majority continues to cower to the gun lobby and firearms manufacturers. They plead the Second Amendment, but Constitutional Law 101 would tell us that all of our rights, including freedom of speech and religion, must be balanced with the protection of innocent third parties and the safety of the wider community.

One common-sense measure we should all agree on is background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill. Your freedom of speech doesn’t allow you to shout “fire” in a crowded theater, and neither ought you be able to buy a weapon if you have a history of violence and criminality.

In fact, almost 90 percent of Americans – including the majority of gun owners – support universal background checks for all gun purchases.

The problem is that our current background check system is rife with loopholes. Background checks are not required for private sales at gun shows. They are also not required when individuals purchase weapons online.

Bipartisan legislation (H.R. 1217) has been introduced by Reps. Peter King of New York and Mike Thompson of California that would finally close these egregious loopholes.

This represents an entirely sensible reform that would have a measurable impact on the safety of our schools, homes, and neighborhoods – without preventing law-abiding citizens from using guns for self-defense or recreational purposes.

Despite attracting 186 cosponsors, including several Republicans, the background check legislation has never been brought to the floor, or even received a hearing in Committee. It’s been languishing for more than 15 months!

Meanwhile, the shootings and suicides and massacres continue to accumulate. We must do better. Our fellow citizens are totally fed up, both with the unspeakable killing and suffering and with a feckless Congress that hasn’t lifted a finger to prevent it.

This week, after intense public criticism and a historic protest by Democrats on the House floor, Republicans seemed willing to hold a vote on legislation they claim would prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms. After all, nearly 2,500 individuals on the terror watch list have successfully purchased weapons since 2004, according to the Government Accountability Office.

But rather than embrace existing bipartisan legislation to actually fix the problem, Republicans put forward a woefully inadequate proposal that would require law enforcement and the courts to grapple with an unworkable process, with unreachable standards, to be completed in an unreasonably short period of time.

Their bill would allow suspected terrorists to receive firearms by default, after only three days, if the court is unable to work through a complicated process – the same flaw that allowed the white supremacist Charleston shooter to obtain the weapon that he used to murder nine people at Emanuel AME Church.

In other words, the bill is totally inadequate, and now, under pressure from their most extreme members, Republican leaders have failed to put even this bill forward.

What we should be voting on is bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1076, that would permit the Attorney General to immediately block gun sales to suspected terrorists. This legislation, based on a proposal from the Bush Justice Department, would still allow individuals to challenge the government in court to restore their gun ownership rights. We don’t have to choose between protecting our communities and respecting due process.

And so we ask our colleagues, how much longer must we wait? How many more people must die to move us to act?

How many more American towns and cities must be added to the constantly growing list of places like Orlando, and Columbine, and Aurora, and Charleston, and Newtown?

Moments of silence are not enough. Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. In fact, the scriptures teach that such pieties give grave offense when they mask a refusal to do what we know to be right.

We need action, and I call on my colleagues to bring these common-sense proposals to the floor for a vote!