One week ago today we were confronted with utter madness, the deepest of sorrows and ultimately the shame of not doing more to prevent Newtown. This is my shame because while I did legislate the assault weapons ban in the California Legislature, my words did not resonate on the national level. Despite Aurora, Oak Creek, Virginia Tech and Tucson, I did not push harder. And now 26 are dead including 20 children. This is how I see my grief.
But this is not a new failing. According to the FBI, over the past 5 years alone at least 774 people have died in mass killings, including 161 children under 13. Let me repeat that: 161 children in just the past 5 years.
Killers engage in deadly sprees about every two weeks somewhere in America.
This cannot continue.
Task forces are welcome, and I hope they spur a serious conversation across the country. Violence in America is a complex problem and requires thoughtful deliberation and thoughtful solutions. We need a better mental health system. We need to examine the pervasive role of violence and glorification of guns in media and entertainment.
But we cannot blame this crisis on violent video games or mental illness. Violent video games are just as prevalent in Europe, mental illness is just as prevalent in Europe, and yet their gun violence is about 20% of that in the US.
For too long we have talked and done nothing about the elephant in the room—the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. These are weapons designed specifically to kill people as quickly and efficiently as possible. There are more than 4 million civilian owned assault weapons in the US, and those numbers keep going up. In fact, assault weapons sales have skyrocketed since the Newtown massacre.
This cannot continue.
Australia faced a similar tragedy in 1996, when a man armed with a semi-automatic rifle killed 35 people. The Australian Government and the Australian people responded in horror and did something about it. Their Conservative government passed tough new gun laws, banning the deadliest assault style weapons and large ammunition clips, submitting firearms to a strict permitting process, and requiring dealers to record and report all gun sales. The government also encouraged people to sell their firearms back to the government, and hundreds of thousands of people did. Australia has not had a mass murder since, and the firearm homicide rate has dropped by 75%.
Australians are not so different from us. They enjoy hunting and shooting. They treasure their freedoms. But they were able to say …ENOUGH.
· We banned assault weapons in California almost 20 years ago and the world did not end.
· California has a 10 day waiting period requires background checks on all gun purchases.
· You actually have to pass a safety class and have a permit to buy a handgun in California.
And California’s firearm homicide rate has been cut in half over the past 20 years.
I ask my colleagues to join with me, to pledge with me that we will not rest until assault weapons are banned, until full and complete background checks are required on all gun sales, including sales at gun shows, and until there are strict limits on high capacity ammunition sales.
I really shouldn’t be here today saying any of this. I was shot five times at point blank range. In fact, the 34th anniversary of the Jonestown massacre was one month ago. I still have two bullets in me. But that doesn’t make me tough, that doesn’t give me an edge over anyone else in this debate.
My brush with death was God’s reminder of how precious life is…and now I keep watching TV news footage of small coffins. I don’t expect anyone to understand what that does to me…what it means to stand here and to relive the horror of shooting violence as I write this ….the images never go away. Newtown is with us forever just as Jonestown will always be with me.
I regret that I haven’t done more to stop the unspeakable. I’ve learned my lesson and now I am in all the way—I’ve even had a sit-down discussion with my family. They are with me. My children don’t understand why Congress authorizes loopholes; why it makes it even harder for the public to get the facts on gun violence; why it prohibits maintaining any records on those who purchase guns for more than 24 hours; why it has prohibited federal research into the effects of gun violence on the health of Americans; even why, through inaction, it supports the use of assault weapons to hunt deer. I like Senator Manchin who only has three rounds in the clip when he hunts. Do true sportsmen need to fire 300 rounds in 60 seconds?
People clearly recognize the insanity of our lackadaisical system of controlling weapons sales and possession. And they will also recognize those who fail to protect our children.