Congress must respond to gun violence in US

In 1651, political theorist Thomas Hobbes wrote that life in a nation without reasonable governance and regulation would be “nasty, brutish and short.”

He was the first person to articulate the democratic concept of the social contract in which citizens in a society cede some small measure of absolute freedom in return for a servant government that protects their interests in a complex and at times dangerous world. As Americans, we deplore the potential of ceding our hard-won freedoms to any entity, man or state. Yet, all Americans have ceded some of their freedoms in the interests of public safety.

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By driving on our roads, subject to their rules, we forgo the right to recklessly operate our cars and possibly injure others. By boarding a plane, we give up the right to smoke cigarettes and stand up during take-offs. Furthermore, before we can even approach the gate, we give the Transportation Security Administration the right to search our person and possessions. We suffer these discomforts for the greater good. Efforts in Congress to address the horrific level of gun violence in this country reflect common-sense principles such as these. We can live in a free society and still possess guns for protection and sport without having access to every conceivable high-capacity magazine. We are still a free people if we agree to reasonable background checks before acquiring a weapon. We are still free to pursue our dreams if we agree to reasonable rules that will keep guns out of the hands of criminal organizations.

The naysayers argue that we should not try to regulate guns because the effort will be fruitless to prevent violence. I agree. Nothing we do will eradicate violence in this country or prevent an unbalanced individual from engaging in hateful and tragic behavior. But if we try something, we can make a difference. If we try nothing and shrug our shoulders, I am positive that more innocent daughters, sons, sisters and brothers will die. I know I can’t look into the eyes of a family that lost a child to a stray bullet and tell them that nothing can be done.

According to FBI data, 1,464 people were killed by firearms in New Orleans between 2008-2011. That’s 1,464 families who will never see their loved ones again. If we were to have passed the entirety of President Obama’s proposed reforms, sadly, many of those victims would probably have still been killed because violence is a pervasive and complex problem with a diverse set of causes. Economic insecurity, poor mental health treatment options, inferior education options and the scarcity of positive opportunities are all contributors, which one regulation alone cannot eliminate. That being said, if we only acted on just a few of the president’s proposals, we could decrease the supply of guns used in the homicides by reducing the supply of illegally purchased guns via universal background checks. This would decrease the use of guns in violent crime and keep a few more families from having to bury a loved one.

While I was serving as a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, I introduced an assault weapons ban bill on numerous occasions. I took on the National Rifle Association in these battles not because I have a grudge against gun owners, but because I could find no reasonable defense of having these weapons of mass destruction on our streets. As a resident of Sportsman’s Paradise, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. However, I do not ascribe to the belief that Congress has no role in responding to the gun violence epidemic plaguing communities like New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit.

I support the Democratic Gun Violence Prevention Task Force principles for reducing gun violence because they would make our cities safer than they are today. Even incremental progress in this area would mean a few less heartbroken families. I don’t want to see another Hadiya Pendleton fall victim to our selfish efforts to preserve what obviously needs to change. We must listen to the 362-year-old wisdom of Hobbes so as to avoid perpetuating a dysfunctional system that sentences our innocent youth to an existence that is “nasty, brutish and short.”

Richmond is a member of the House Judiciary Committee.