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On the ninth anniversary of Sandy Hook, we must realize bipartisan action can save lives

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Nine years ago this month (12-14-12), 20 first-graders and six educators were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was an unimaginable tragedy that shook the nation to its core.

The tragedy demanded solutions. So in 2013, we — members of Congress and advocates — worked across the aisle to write a bill that would make it more difficult for people that we can all agree shouldn’t have access to firearms to obtain them. But the Senate failed to pass even this bipartisan bill. 

Since that time, shootings in this country have become only more commonplace. In the past three years alone, there have been more than 2,000 mass shootings. Nearly 18,000 kids under 18 have been killed or injured by guns and there have been more than 400 shootings on school grounds.

Just the other week, four teenagers were shot and murdered at school by their classmate in Oxford, Mich. The devastation that follows these shootings is hard to fathom. Families lost a son, a daughter, or a sibling that day. Children are reeling from having lost a classmate, a friend, or a teammate. It’s simply unacceptable that today students across the country worry about being gunned down when they step off the bus and into school.

Our message to our colleagues is simple: We can take simple steps to reduce shootings in this country. And we can do so while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens. But we should not wait.

That’s why the three of us — a progressive Democrat, a conservative Republican, and an activist whose son was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting — are at the table, ready to work on a deal to save lives. 

Here’s our goal: expand the existing background checks system to keep prohibited persons from taking advantage of loopholes. Right now, in many states, a criminal can get a gun by going to a gun show or buying a weapon online, forums where background checks are not required under federal law. Even in states with stronger background check laws, there’s very little stopping someone from bringing in an illegal weapon from the next state over — or from getting it on the black market.  

We are not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good when it comes to making our communities safer. The 2013 bill is a clear starting point, but we are transparent in our willingness to compromise in order to reach a bipartisan deal that respects individuals’ rights while meaningfully expanding the number of background checks we conduct.

And we believe this Congress can do it. 

The foundation of the current background check system was created with broad bipartisan support. Eight in 10 Americans, including tens of millions of gun owners, want us to expand background checks. More than 50 bipartisan senators already support doing so. 

No policy is going to prevent all tragedies, but the tragedy at Sandy Hook, and the hundreds of school shootings since then, serve as a reminder that we cannot rest until we agree on common-sense solutions that will save lives. We just need a few more senators to see that expanding background checks is one of those solutions.

While not unique to America, school shootings occur in the United States at a rate that far outpaces that of any other developed country. We’re the only high-income nation where students are afraid to go to school out of fear that a classmate might shoot them. Doing nothing will perpetuate this unacceptable reality.

Today, on this day of remembrance of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we ask our colleagues, advocates, and parents to join us in taking bipartisan action to strengthen and expand our background checks system. No parent should have to endure the pain of burying their child. But every day, more families’ lives are shattered by people who shouldn’t have access to firearms. These families’ hopes and dreams are forever changed. 

Let’s come together so more families don’t have to pay such a terrifying price.

Pat Toomey is a Republican from Pennsylvania who has been serving in the Senate for 11 years. Chris Murphy is a Democrat from Connecticut who was first elected to the Senate in 2012. Mark Barden is co-founder and CEO of the Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund, and the father of Daniel who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on Dec. 14, 2012.

Tags Chris Murphy gun violence Mass shooting Pat Toomey Sandy Hook School shooting Universal background check

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