Members of Congress must follow President Obama’s lead on guns

During the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, I stood before President Obama and asked him what he would do to limit the availability of AK-47s and other military-style assault weapons in our country. Like too many politicians before him, he offered an answer that lacked in detail and or substantive specifics.

We saw the terrible cost of politics as usual this summer in Aurora, Colo., when a heavily armed gunman killed 12 people and wounded another 58 in a movie theater. We saw it weeks later in Oak Creek, Wis., when a shooter murdered six and wounded four at a Sikh temple. We saw it in December in Portland, Ore., when a gunman opened fire in a shopping mall, killing two and seriously wounding one. 

And we saw it a few days later in Newtown, Conn., when 20 schoolchildren and six adults were brutally murdered in one of the worst shootings in our nation’s history. 

In the past few months, our country has been shaken to its core by multiple tragedies that always seem to follow the same script. In each of these terrible shootings, the gunman was armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, a high-capacity magazine or both. We mourn the slain and wring our hands over our broken gun laws, but deadly weapons continue to be easier to purchase than Sudafed at a pharmacy.

This time, Obama has demonstrated his seriousness about strengthening our nation’s gun laws and promised to submit to Congress his administration’s proposals to reduce gun deaths. But he can’t act alone. Congress must enact the president’s proposals without delay. If our elected leaders continue to do nothing, as they have in the past, 33 Americans will continue to be murdered with guns every day. 

Like most Americans, I believe that keeping guns out of the hands of criminals goes hand-in-hand with support for Second Amendment rights. We can greatly increase public safety by implementing three simple reforms. 

First, we must ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. These weapons are all too often found at the scene of mass shootings. Lawmakers should close the loopholes that prevented the original assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, from being effective. 

Second, we must require criminal background checks for all gun sales by closing the private-sale loophole. Approximately 40 percent of guns are sold privately, which comes to about 6.6 million firearms sold in 2012 without a background check. Dangerous people who cannot pass background checks can easily acquire guns in the private, secondary market without fear of detection.

Third, we must make gun trafficking a federal crime. An incomplete patchwork of laws with weak penalties restricts federal law enforcement from fully prosecuting trafficking in firearms. Going after gun traffickers will make our communities safer, especially on the Mexican border. 

These reforms are supported by people on all sides of the gun debate, including gun owners. A recent Mayors Against Illegal Guns survey, conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, found that 74 percent of NRA members support extending criminal background checks to private sales. 

None of these measures will infringe upon an American’s ability to shoot for sport or defend his or her home, but they will make it harder for felons, drug abusers, the dangerously mentally ill and other prohibited purchasers to acquire military-style weapons that have no place on our streets. 

The American people are making it known that they will no longer accept such tragedies as the price of their freedoms. We stand now before our president and Congress with a new question: How will you work together to ensure that our theaters, places of worship, shopping malls and schools will be safe from gun violence? 

Gonzalez, a licensed clinical social worker in Long Island, N.Y., asked President Obama and Mitt Romney about gun violence during the second presidential debate at Long Island’s Hofstra University.