Impose limits on gun access — and term limits on Congress

The only good news coming out of two unspeakable tragedies — in Buffalo, N.Y., where 10 people died in a racially-motivated shooting, and Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman at Robb Elementary School — is that they have brought home to Americans the absolutely irrefutable idea that we must do something to try to stem the use of firearms that can kill many people in a single incident. 

Even before these mass shootings, polls showed strong support for “red flag laws” and universal background checks, and it appears that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will allow the Republicans who are meeting with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to fashion some action regarding firearms access. They probably will try to enact universal background checks, red flag laws, and continued investment in improving mental health services. In the understandable desire to do something, Murphy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and the Democratic Caucus seem eager to agree on a bill — even if it includes just these three things. McConnell is keenly aware that agreeing to such a bill would take gun access off the table and eliminate what could be a game-changing issue for Democrats in this fall’s elections.

The problem is that, although each of these ideas could help to combat mass killings, none would do anything to take the weapons of war with which these killers are often equipped off the market. A good step forward would be to include the three things that Congress is likely to agree upon along with a ban on the sale of “assault-style” weapons and magazines that carry more than 10 bullets. These restrictions could make it more difficult for a gunman to kill several people in split seconds.

Now, I know many Republicans probably will say that we don’t need restrictions on magazines or certain weapons; we just need improvements in mental health access and to harden attractive targets such as schools. That argument is ridiculous. From 2009 to 2018, America experienced 288 mass shootings. Mexico was the country with the second-highest number of mass shootings — with eight. Most other developed countries have had five or fewer over that 10-year period. As they often say in the advertising industry, “That is no accident.”

What distinguishes America from other developed countries is the almost limitless availability of and access to firearms of all types. Unless we begin to restrict these weapons, deranged people will continue to enter schools, stores, festivals, places of worship and other places where people congregate, equipped with high-powered weapons and hundreds of bullets to carry out their crime.

There is understandable hue and cry over the fact that law enforcement reportedly waited 47 minutes before entering the Uvalde classroom to neutralize the shooter. I am sure the investigation will include reasons that this occurred, but if the police chief is honest, he will say that he felt they were outgunned by a man armed with a high-powered rifle, high-capacity magazines, and body armor. Simply put, he and his officers were afraid that at least four or five of them would have died in an effort to bring down the shooter. The truth is, such fear and hesitancy say all we need to know about why we should ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. If trained police officers are hesitant in the face of them, it is a clear indication that these firearms have killing power that should be reserved for use by the military during conflicts and wars. 

I would hope that the Democrats would at least try to add a ban on high-capacity magazines, which seems less objectionable to the gun lobby than a ban on assault-style rifles. That would still be a significant step forward.

But there is one more thing we could do to reduce most of the hesitancy to vote for commonsense gun legislation in Washington: impose term limits on Congress. If there were reasonable term limits for members of the House and Senate, most of the hesitancy to pass sensible limits on gun access would fade away. Term limits are not the solution to all problems, but they could free members of Congress from the fear of losing their jobs — because none of their jobs would be long-term careers. Some members might be inclined to vote for a bill they know would be beneficial, but they don’t vote for it because that might cause them to lose a primary election. But if you are serving, say, your seventh year of a 10-year term, the loss wouldn’t be a career, just two years in D.C.  

As it is now, Washington remains almost paralyzed to act on important legislation that is the least bit controversial, and Americans are becoming increasingly despondent. So, I would hope that we can reach a reasonable compromise to limit firearms access — but I suspect we won’t go far enough. It’s time to seriously consider imposing term limits on members of Congress. In the end, it may be the only thing that has an impact on the environment of inaction in our nation’s capital.

Edward G. Rendell was the 45th governor of Pennsylvania. He is a former mayor of Philadelphia and former district attorney in that city. He served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 presidential election. Follow him on Twitter @GovEdRendell.

Tags Assault Weapons Chris Murphy Chuck Schumer Gun control Mass shootings Mitch McConnell School shooting term limits

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