06.27.16

Op-Ed: Congress must stand up to the NRA (Burbank Leader/Glendale News-Press)

I've had enough. How long are we to keep going from mass shooting to mass shooting without something changing?

I thought that the movie theater mass killing in Aurora, Colo., would shock the nation's conscience. Twelve were killed and more than 50 injured in only seven minutes during a showing of "The Dark Knight." At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting since Columbine, also in Colorado. But nothing changed after Aurora.

And then I was convinced that the turning point would have to be the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when 20 young children and six adult staff members were gunned down in a school. Five minutes was all it took to murder 26 and wound another three.

 

Again, I was wrong. Again, Congress declared a moment of silence, and did nothing.

 

Just this month, 49 were murdered and another 53 wounded at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando. This will go down, for now, as the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. It follows close on the heels of another mass shooting not far from our community, in San Bernardino, Calif.

 

When I woke up on the morning of the Orlando attack, reports of the massacre left me numb. Yet another mass shooting, this time by someone who had pledged allegiance to terror groups abroad. His motivations are still not completely clear — it will take time to unravel the degree to which he was radicalized by foreign terrorist organizations or acted on his hatred of LGBT people. Plainly, as the president said, this was an act of terror and also an act of hate.

 

Now I realize that many people view mass shootings motivated by terror as something fundamentally different than mass shootings that arise from mental illness. And there is no question that a broad range of efforts must be made to attack terrorism, from defeating ISIS on the battlefield, to combating its ideology online and ferreting out homegrown radicals. But regardless of what drove the Orlando killer, one thing is clear in all these mass shootings, whether conducted for ISIS, out of hatred, from mental illness or all of the above: the easy access to weapons intended for killing lots of people as quickly as possible makes these attacks ruthlessly efficient.

 

We know that no single remedy can eliminate gun violence and stem the tide of mass shootings with their diverse causes. But the fact that we can't stop all of these tragedies is no excuse for failing to take action that could stop many, and make others less deadly.

Here's what we can do in Congress, if we have the courage to stand up to the extreme positions of the National Rifle Assn. and its allies.

 

First, Congress should pass legislation to require universal background checks and close the gun show loophole, a step which is supported by almost 90% of the American people. This would help prevent guns from being easily trafficked from states with lax gun laws into those with strong laws, such as California. Second, Congress should quickly enact "No Fly, No Buy" legislation so that those who are on terror watch lists cannot easily purchase weapons. Finally, we should reinstate the assault weapons ban which expired in 1994 and hasn't been reauthorized. Assault weapons, like the guns used in Orlando, San Bernardino and Newtown, are weapons of war, and they have no place on our streets.

 

Just this Monday, the Senate failed to pass measures that would have blocked people on the terrorism watch list from buying weapons — both guns and explosives — and another measure that would close background check loopholes. These amendments were the lowest common denominator — things we already agree on in principle and the American people support by wide majorities. But many senators and representatives are so scared of the political power of the NRA that they refuse to back these common sense measures.

 

Despite this terrible setback, we are not powerless to move forward. President Obama shouldn't simply wait for Congress to come to its senses.

 

I recently wrote to the president to ask that he consider instructing the Department of Justice to enable the FBI to place a flag in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System on those that have been previously investigated for terrorism. This flag would notify the FBI if such an individual sought to buy a gun, and potentially trigger a 72-hour waiting period prior to the sale and allow the FBI to investigate further. We will never know if such a system would have disrupted the Orlando plot, but it could save lives in the future.

 

For too long, Congress has cowered in fear of the NRA's power, but I believe the tide is turning. Instead, we should fear the continued costs of inaction and the rising death toll in our country. I stand with the American people who demand an end to moments of silence until they are accompanied by moments of action.

 

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-Burbank) represents the 28th District.