Marian Wright EdelmanOp-EdOpinion

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Moving Forward to Prevent Gun Violence

When 26-year-old Stockton, California, Council member Michael Tubbs was elected in 2016 as the city’s first Black mayor, its youngest mayor ever, and the youngest mayor in U.S. history of a city with a population of at least 100,000, he had a mission to make a positive change in his hometown.

Last year the city made progress towards a key goal: reducing gun violence. Stockton police reported 40 percent fewer homicides and 31 percent fewer shootings between 2017 and 2018 and said increased police resources and community involvement are making a difference.

Mayor Tubbs shared his thanks in a social media post: “The murder of my cousin is what brought me back to Stockton after college and I’ve spent the last 6 years as an elected official focused on reducing shootings and homicides and making our community safer. … I want to thank Stockton Police Department, the Office of Violence Prevention and community partners like Friends Outside, Fathers & Families of San Joaquin and Advance Peace for the amazing work they did in 2018.” He added: “Let’s continue in 2019.”

Stockton isn’t the only place making progress on gun violence. Across our nation, state leaders have responded to our children’s cries and advanced common-sense gun violence prevention measures to keep them safe. Last year more than half of all states passed at least one gun violence prevention measure:

• Eleven states enacted laws to keep guns out of the hands of those convicted of domestic abuse.
• Nine states banned bump stocks or strengthened existing bans.
• Eight states and D.C. enacted Extreme Risk Protection Order laws which empower families and law enforcement officers to temporarily limit gun access for those who pose a danger to themselves or others.
• Seven states added new background check requirements or strengthened existing requirements. In total, 20 states and D.C. currently extend background checks beyond federal requirements.

The majority of these laws were enacted in the months after the Parkland shooting — a testament to the courageous children and youths who organized and demanded leaders protect children, not guns.

There have also been signs of positive progress at the federal level. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued a ban on bump stocks which will take effect on March 26 and remove these dangerous devices which can be attached to semiautomatic rifles to mimic machine guns. Bump stocks were used by the gunman who killed 58 people at a Las Vegas country music concert in 2017. The ban prohibits future sales of bump stocks and requires current bump stock owners to destroy the devices or turn them in.

The midterm elections ushered a “Gun Sense” majority into Congress and established gun violence prevention as a national moral imperative and top legislative priority. Most notably, on January 8 Congress introduced The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 (H.R.8) which would require universal background checks for all gun sales, not just sales by licensed gun dealers, which is what current law requires. In the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, 92 percent of American voters supported these checks. This bill is a critical step towards keeping guns out of the hands of those who would use them to harm our children. While background checks don’t prevent legal gun purchases, they could prevent child and teen gun deaths.

H.R.8 was introduced on the eighth anniversary of the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona that killed six people and injured 13 others, including Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), and Giffords joined the members of Congress at the bill’s introduction.

In a statement, she said: “Last year millions of Americans spoke up, marched, and voted for new leaders who would make a safer future for all families a priority. Now, for the first time in decades, Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives are coming together to take action. Congress will be silent no more. Regardless of party, we must fight to stop this heartbreaking public safety threat from becoming a new normal, and we must do it together. The introduction of the bipartisan background checks bill in the House today marks a critical first step toward strengthening America’s gun laws and making our country a better place to live, work, study, worship and play. When lives are at stake, we make progress by never giving up.”

In 2017, 3,410 children and teens were killed with a gun. How many more senseless child and teen deaths will we allow before we enact common-sense gun safety measures? While we are encouraged by these modest first steps, the fact that more preschoolers were killed by guns in 2017 than law enforcement officers in the line of duty reinforces that this is still an urgent crisis and we still have a long way to go.

Every two hours and 48 minutes we fail to act, a child or teen is killed with a gun. We cannot afford to wait — our children’s lives are at stake. We must continue making progress and never give up. All of us must stand up and demand our elected officials pass H.R.8 with urgency and act to keep the momentum going. Every child and every person should be able to walk our nation’s streets without fear. With the anniversary of the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, only a few weeks away, let’s show our children they can finally count on us to protect them — not guns.

Edelman is founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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