Some steps to preventing gun violence

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First, we must recognize that this is a problem greater than just gun control. It has to do with our nation and its socioeconomic policies. We must gain a holistic understanding of the various factors causing violence and in turn provide a comprehensive solution. The 2012 Peace Index, a yearly study done by the Institute for Economics and Peace on the cost of violence across the world, found that the least violent states in our nation had some of the highest rates of health coverage, high school graduation, educational opportunity, and perceived access to basic services, as well as among the lowest rates of teen pregnancy, income inequality, poverty, and infant mortality. 

These findings are especially relevant in light of the looming decisions around the ‘fiscal cliff’ facing the nation. At a time when many are struggling to find economic opportunity, there are those that want to cut basic social services that keep many people afloat. This is a clear example of America's tendency is to pursue policies that react to violence rather than prevent it. 

Second, we must understand the role that gun laws play in gun violence. In the week that followed the Sandy Hook shooting, we saw an 11-year old child bring a gun to school in Utah, a Marine recruiter shot and killed on a highway in California, the lockdown of a college campus in my congressional district, and four killed in a rural shooting in Pennsylvania. These events stem from society’s overemphasis on, and an easy supply to, lethal killing weapons that outstrip the destructive power of anything our Founding Fathers could have imagined when writing the Constitution. 

As a gun owner myself, I respect the rights of gun owners and the Second Amendment. These rights, however, are subject to restrictions to ensure the safety of all citizens. Our nation already has a framework, though certainly not perfect, for proper background checking and licensing. Unfortunately, Congress has severely underfunded the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – resulting in an incomplete background database that hasn’t expanded to all fifty states. The severe lack of resources also prevents the Bureau from conducting yearly inspections, as mandated by federal law, of all federally licensed gun dealers. 

Law enforcement personnel, additionally, are restricted from fully tracking gun purchases, uses, and sales due to the presence of the Tiahrt Amendments, a series of legal restrictions instituted by Congress that make it harder for law enforcement to aggressively pursue criminals who use illegal guns and track the movement of guns used in crimes.  

This is problematic. I strongly believe in the need to not only re-enact the federal assault weapons ban, but to do so with even tighter restrictions that remove some of the loopholes of the original ban. When the original 1994 to 2004 ban was in effect, gun violence and mass shootings fell dramatically. A ban should be a ban across the board.

Third, we need to take a real look of the state of mental health in our nation. There is no reason that it should be easier to purchase a lethal weapon in our country than it is get a mental health screening. This is why, throughout my career in Congress, I have advocated for the concept of mental health parity. We must ensure that we consider mental ailments on the same level as a physical ailment. 

We must promote yearly screenings for mental health, like we do for physical health, and push for full coverage of these screenings by health insurance companies. This can be done by providing incentives to insurers and patients, like we do for physicals, for completing yearly mental health screenings. We must educate individuals, their families, and the general population about the clear warning signs of trauma and social disengagement that often happens to shooters prior to violent tragedies. 

We have struggled as nation to comprehend how someone could commit an act so vicious and violent. As we pick-up the pieces and make sense of what happened on that tragic day, many pro-gun advocates have said pushing for policy prescriptions so soon after this tragedy is too political. I argue that pushing for policies after a horrible event like this is already too late.

Honda is a member of the House Budget and Appropriations committees.