Halting gun violence demands moral leadership

Halting gun violence demands moral leadership
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The tragic violence that recently rocked West Texas is the latest outrage in what has become a recurring nightmare and national crisis: the uniquely American phenomenon of the mass shooting. With Congress back in session, some have vowed — finally — to address the crisis, and the White House has even floated a proposal for expanded background checks, but Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s debate boast — “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47” — has complicated the discussion and reinvigorated a scandal-plagued NRA.

My wife and I are parents of elementary students in the Parkland, Florida, school district. People we know well lost children in the shootings at Stoneman Douglas. Our kids were one mile up the road. I have seen first-hand the pain of grieving families and the permanent scars left on communities in the wake of these horrific events.

The urgent question to which we must demand an answer is this: When will our elected leaders pursue even the most basic action to help stop them from happening again?

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The House of Representatives in February passed the first major gun reform legislation in two decades in the form of a bill requiring universal background checks on all purchasers of firearms. The bill has since languished in the Senate without the necessary votes for it to pass and become law.

Just eight Republicans had the courage to support this commonsense policy. Among them was Rep. Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastHalting gun violence demands moral leadership The 9 House Republicans who support background checks Two cats visit Capitol Hill to thank lawmakers who helped end 'kitten slaughterhouse' MORE from Florida, a longtime National Rifle Association (NRA) member who last year penned a bold op-ed for The New York Times demonstrating the type of thoughtful, constructive and bipartisan leadership that is sorely lacking in Washington today.

Among other sensible steps that are long overdue, Rep. Mast called for establishing the legal definition of an assault weapon, a logical first step toward banning their future sales, and banning the sale of accessories that create de facto automatic weapons.

A Congress unwilling to require universal background checks will almost certainly cower from taking on the contentious issue of banning future sales of these weapons of war. The oft-repeated canards of those in opposition are inevitable:

“There really is no such thing as an ‘assault weapon.’” As Rep. Mast explained, the fully automatic M-4 rifle he carried in Afghanistan where he lost both legs and a finger clearing a path for Army Rangers, is almost identical in engineering to the semi-automatic AR-15 that has become the weapon of choice for mass shooters. Both are built to hold high-capacity magazines, empowering the shooter to kill and maim dozens in mere seconds, from a distance. Mass shooters, like all of us, can easily purchase these weapons, which provide far more firepower than necessary to hunt or defend our homes and families. 

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“The 2nd Amendment is not beholden to technology.’’ Actually, it certainly is. Just as we cannot own fully automatic machine guns or anti-tank rockets, we as a nation have already decided to place limits on the types of weapons we accept as a culture. 

Congressman Mast’s decision to place principle over party by being outspoken on this issue has come with a hefty price. The NRA swiftly dropped his perfect “A” rating to an “F,” and he faced a primary challenger in his race for re-election, before ultimately prevailing.

True leadership is doing the right thing, even when it’s not expedient and comes at personal cost. It should inspire pride and some degree of hope that a decorated U.S. combat veteran is demonstrating the honor, iron resolve and willingness to work across party lines on this critical issue, which will be needed to deliver the gun reform our country so obviously requires.

We the people can clearly enjoy the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment while also doing something to address the epidemic of gun violence and mass shootings that are an existential threat to our national safety.

Study after study indicates that our nation is less safe than other advanced democracies with sensible gun control policies. Gun owners, including me, need not fall for needlessly alarmist rhetoric that frames taking some measured steps as a slippery first step before the government swoops in to strip its citizens of their constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms.

Many other nations allow legal gun ownership, but also have laws regulating gun sales, banning certain categories of firearms and ammunition, and preventing guns from falling into the hands of those whose access to firearms should be restricted such as those on terrorist watch lists.

It is long overdue for the U.S. Senate to take up and pass the universal background check legislation, which would be an appropriate first step in the right direction. With every passing day, the men and women who comprise the world’s greatest deliberative body are continuing to deliberate while the body count of our citizenry soars.

At least three times a week, I drive past the local high school where my own kids will study in just a handful of years. Preserved as a crime scene, chain link fences and yellow police tape still surround the freshman building where my neighbors’ children died screaming in a hail of gunfire. That empty edifice is an eerie and stark memorial to inaction, and a reminder of the steep price every American must ultimately be prepared to pay until our leaders demonstrate moral leadership on the issue of gun reform.

Evan Nierman is Founder and CEO of Red Banyan (@redbanyan), an international public relations and crisis management firm.