Senate must act on background check measure which could close deadly loopholes
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Today I walked my 11-year-old son to his school bus stop. Like most mornings, we discussed the schedule for the day. But today we also discussed something different in his schedule -- his school’s semi-annual lockdown drill.  My son has grown up in the generation of Sandy Hook -- a generation of children who have come to experience school as a place where active shooting drills have replaced fire drills as part of standard emergency preparedness.

Of course, it’s not just school shootings. In 2017, the last year that data was available, over 1,800 children in the U.S. died as a result of a firearm, and the number of firearm deaths among children has increased in each of the last five years.[1] Gun violence recently surpassed motor vehicle accidents as a leading killer of young people in the United States and was second only to drug overdose. 

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That is why Amnesty International USA’s top legislative priority in 2019 is not an international issue but rather a domestic one that hits very close to home -- ending the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.

While school shootings garner heavy public attention, only a fraction of these deaths were from these incidents. Whether through intentional violence, self-harm, or access to unlocked and loaded firearms in the home, gun violence affects children in every community across the country.

Despite these staggering statistics, Congress has repeatedly refused to require the most basic form of gun violence prevention – universal mandatory background checks on all gun sales.  

On May 6, Amnesty activists from 40 states will hit Capitol Hill to demand that the Senate pass legislation requiring universal background checks for all U.S. gun sales. While the House quickly passed this legislation in February, the Senate has yet to mark up and move this measure.

This legislative measure is simple and makes common sense. In the most recent survey of gun owners, nearly a quarter  (22 percent) of people who had acquired their most recent gun did so without a background check.  One of the guns used in the Columbine shooting was obtained in a private sale from a pizza shop employee -- with no background check.  An overwhelming 97 percent of Americans and 85 percent of gun owners support universal background checks. And still the Senate has refused to pass the Background Check Expansion Act (S.42) which would require universal background checks for all gun sales.

Universal background checks could close deadly loopholes, preventing threats to public safety and ensuring that guns do not fall into dangerous hands. People should be able to go to school, a house of worship, a movie or concert, or just walk down their neighborhood street without fear of being shot.

We refuse to stand by as children are killed and injured by guns every day and our nation’s leaders continue to do nothing. The Senate must pass universal background checks, to ensure that the lives of all children and people are indeed valued over the sale of guns. As the late Nelson Mandela said in 1995, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Joanne Lin is National Advocacy Director of Amnesty International.