Congress should raise the age limit to buy AR-15s, extend background checks
© Getty Images

In the wake of the massacre of 17 persons at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Americans all across the country are demanding that their leaders take action to end the scourge of mass shootings in our schools, places of worship, workplaces and public places. And they are right to do so. In 2017, there were 2,239 victims of mass shooting incidents, 439 of which were fatal.

It does not have to be this way. There are practical and effective actions that can be taken now that can help reduce the recurrence of mass killings like the ones that plagued Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Virginia Tech and Newtown, Conn. I have introduced two such measures: the “No Mass Atrocities With Guns Act,” (H.R. 5088), which raises to 21 the minimum for individuals to purchase, transfer or possess weapons of war and the “Gun Safety, Not Sorry Act” (H.R. 4268), which extends to seven days the waiting period pending background check for purchases and transfers of dangerous weapons like the AR-15 rifle used to kill students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

ADVERTISEMENT

The mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., was the 18th mass shooting incident in the United States this year and the 12th mass shooting to occur at a school. Every day 96 people die due to gun violence, seven of whom are children. In the face of these alarming statistics, Congress has done nothing. Sadly, this inaction is not without a price. Because of the lack of meaningful state and federal gun safety legislation, a generation of American schoolchildren has come of age since the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999. We can and must stop this madness.

Many Americans were shocked to learn that someone as young as 18 can buy an AR-15 rifle like the one used in Parkland. Under federal law, it is unlawful for an individual under the age of 21 to purchase a handgun but entirely legal for that same person to purchase an assault weapon like the AR-15. This makes no sense and can be ended immediately by enacting the “No More Atrocities with Guns Act.” Specifically, this legislation, which already has attracted 117 co-sponsors, raises the minimum age to purchase or possess AR-15s and other semi-automatic assault rifles from 18 to 21, while carving out an exception for members of the Armed Forces on active duty and for persons serving as full-time law enforcement officers. It should not be more difficult to rent a car or buy cigarettes or alcohol than it is to buy an assault rifle. We need to keep the most dangerous weapons out of the most dangerous hands.

We must also not lose sight of the fact that gun deaths can be prevented through the use of common-sense background checks. Time and again, research has shown that cooling-off periods decrease gun violence. Handgun waiting periods impose a delay between the initiation of a purchase and final acquisition of a firearm. The waiting creates a cooling-off period among buyers, and provides time to conduct a thorough background check, significantly reducing the incidence of gun violence. According to an October 2017 Harvard University study, the adoption of a national waiting period, from 1994 to 1998 under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, led to a 17 percent drop in gun homicides. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, in states with comprehensive background checks for all handguns there are 47 percent fewer women shot to death by intimate partners, 47 percent fewer suicides by gun, and, 53 percent fewer law enforcement officers shot and killed in the line of duty. 

Background checks also proved critical in Connecticut where they are credited with a 40 percent decline in gun homicides and a 15 percent decline in gun suicides. The converse was also true in Missouri, where a 2007 law, which repealed a permit-to-purchase bill led to a 23 percent increase in gun homicides and a 16 percent increase of gun suicides. This natural experiment alone is compelling enough to adopt longer cooling-off periods. That is why Congress should enact the “Gun Safety Not Sorry Act of 2017,” that I introduced. The “Gun Safety Not Sorry Act of 2017” mandates a seven-day waiting period before the purchase or transfer-of-ownership of a semiautomatic firearm, a silencer, armor piercing ammunition or a large capacity ammunition magazine. This legislation will not abridge the Second Amendment, take away gun rights, nor impose greater restrictions on gun ownership, yet it would significantly reduce gun deaths.

An episode of mass violence has once again visited one of our communities. The tragedy follows a familiar trope: horror at the news; thoughts and prayers for the victims; moments of silence; demands to take action met by claims that it is appropriate ‘to inject politics’ in the wake of a tragedy; followed by inaction and then fading memories.

But this time can and must be different. We can and must take action to reduce gun violence. Congress can pass two practical, effective, and popular measures: the “No More Atrocities with Guns Act” and “Gun Safety Not Sorry Act of 2017.” The time for Congress to do so is now.

Jackson Lee is a Democrat from Texas’s 18th District. She is a senior member of the House Committees on Judiciary and Homeland Security and is ranking member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.