If you believe any poll, Americans are fed up with the gun violence that follows them to schools, to theaters, to shopping centers, to nightclubs, and up and down our streets.
Is Congress fed up as well? Almost certainly not, though we’d love to be proved wrong. On Monday, four gun-related bills are expected to come to a vote in the U.S. Senate. Two of those bills are well worth passing.
Here’s what you can do: Hound your senators and hound your congressman. The bills, if approved, move next to the House. Call, write, text and tweet. Shout louder than the National Rifle Association. America suffers 32,000 gun deaths a year. Let Washington know you see a problem there.
The four measures, which are expected to be brought to the floor only because of the success of a nearly 15-hour Democratic filibuster that ended Thursday, are:
- A bill initiated by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to expand universal background checks to include firearms sold at gun shows.
- A bill sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to give the U.S. Justice Department the authority to block gun sales to anyone on the terrorist watch list.
- A bill reintroduced by Sen John Cornyn, R-Texas, to allow the attorney general to delay a weapons purchase by a known or suspected terrorist for 72 hours.
- A bill from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., to require that the FBI be notified if someone under investigation for terrorism buys a gun. Sen. Mark Kirk has introduced a similar bill.
The Senate should pass the bills pushed by Murphy and Feinstein and ignore the others, which would do little to make us safer.
If it became law, Murphy’s bill would slow the incessant flow of illegal guns into Chicago, where they are turned on rival gang members as well as others in the line of fire, including grandparents, people going to work and 6-year-olds doing their homework.
On Friday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said 40 percent of the illegal guns recovered in high-crime areas of Chicago are purchased at gun shows in Indiana, where buyers don’t have to go through a background check. The background checks are supposed to keep people with histories of serious crime from buying firearms. But you can have a felony rap sheet longer than War and Peace and still buy powerful firearms at an Indiana gun show.
Feinstein’s bill would help keep people on the terrorism watch list from buying guns. That’s just common sense. As Durbin pointed out, al-Qaida already has encouraged would-be terrorists to buy guns in America — and use them. Why should we make that easy? The bill includes an appeal process for people whose names mistakenly land on the list.
By contrast, Cornyn’s bill has accurately been described as a “head fake” by one opponent of gun violence. It would delay gun sales to known or suspected terrorists for 72 hours to allow authorities to investigate whether the sale should go forward. But that’s ridiculous. Seventy-two hours is nowhere close to sufficient time for a thorough investigation and would result in allowing suspected terrorists to purchase weapons.
Grassley’s bill would require the FBI be notified when terrorism suspects buy guns, but here’s the catch: The terrorism suspects would still have the weapons. A compromise pushed by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) would ban sales to those on the no-fly list, but that has fewer names than the terror suspect list.
We understand the political realities, but we wish Congress were considering more effective legislation to curb gun violence. Although the bills backed by Murphy and Feinstein would help, they fall short of the robust laws we need to bring down gun violence significantly.
Our system of background checks, for example, isn’t flawed just because so many gun sales take place outside the system. It’s also because the background checks themselves are too weak. According to the National Gun Victims Action Council, the last 15 high-profile gun murderers, including the one in Orlando, all passed their background checks. We need stronger background checks, but that is a fight for another day.
We were struck by what Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said on Friday about gun violence in Chicago: “We have incidents of terror in our communities every day.”
If you are fed up, let your fury be known.
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