Yesterday was my birthday! And yes, I celebrated.
But there were so many more people yesterday who were grieving. They were grieving lost lives and injuries from the mass shooting in Orlando on Sunday.
I woke up Sunday morning and glanced at my phone. My NPR app sends me updates so I groggily read something about a shooting in Florida. I am ashamed to say I didn’t click on the update to read more because like so many Americans I wasn’t surprised to hear about yet another shooting.
After my morning coffee though I took the time to read through the news and slowly absorbed the gravity of this hateful event. There has been much chatter online and on news and entertainment programs and even in Congress this week regarding gun control in the wake of this Orlando hate crime.
I think often we all feel a little powerless to have any kind of real impact with such monumental discussions. But after signing an online White House petition to ban assault riffles, today I received this mass email from Vice President Joe Biden:
Over the past few years, we’ve watched as new horrific shootings have replaced previous ones as the deadliest in our nation’s history.
We’ve waged campaign after campaign to turn our grief into action — each time thinking maybe, just maybe, this will be the one that breaks through. This will be the one that gets through to Congress, which must ultimately act. We’ve used phrases like Now is the Time. Stop Gun Violence. Enough is Enough.
Folks, enough has been enough for a long time.
You know that. On Monday, in the wake of this latest, deadliest, mass shooting, you started this petition. You worked together, calling on your government to ban AR-15-type weapons from civilian ownership. In the days following, we have seen members of the United States Senate take and hold the floor, refusing to back down, refusing to concede that we might need to wait for an even bigger national tragedy to finally make some changes.
To the creator and signers of this petition, I want to say this as plainly and clearly as possible: The President and I agree with you. Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines should be banned from civilian ownership.
When a lone gunman walked into a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, he carried a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 — a variation of the AR-15 rifle — modified to hold as many as 100 bullets. He used it to kill 12 people and injure 70.
And when a lone gunman walked into a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, he carried a version of the AR-15. He used it — and several handguns — to kill 10 of his fellow students and injure nine.
And when a lone gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, he carried a Bushmaster XM 15 — another version of the AR-15 — and multiple high-capacity magazines. He used it to kill 20 innocent children and six educators with 154 bullets in five minutes.
A single person killed that many people in just a few minutes. Not in a war zone. Here in America — in a classroom.
These weapons have been used to commit horrific acts. They’ve been called “the perfect killing machines.” They fire bullets at incredible speed that rip through bodies and cause devastating carnage, and can accommodate high-capacity magazines that allow them to effectively shoot up to 45 rounds per minute. We’ve seen their tragic results play out in our death tolls and in the thousands left wounded, struggling to recover.
As we learned this week from the family of the gun’s inventor, he himself did not intend that this gun be used by civilians, only by our soldiers in combat — giving them an advantage over the AK-47. He didn’t own one himself. Here is what his family said:
“We think he would have been horrified and sickened as anyone, if not more, by these events.”
Right now, these weapons are on the shelves in gun shops around the country, completely legal for civilians to purchase. They can be purchased in a matter of mere minutes. That should not be so.
Here’s a start: We should renew the assault weapons ban that Congress passed in 1994 — but which expired ten years later. That ban, which covered 19 specific assault-style weapons, was included in a comprehensive crime bill that folded together three pieces of legislation. I remember it well. I was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time. I wrote much of the bill and led it through Congress — with the help of many others, especially Senator Feinstein on the assault weapons ban. I argued strongly in favor of banning these weapons. What’s more, 46 House Republicans voted for that ban in 1994. Forty-six.
So what happened to that bill? To use a somewhat wonkish legislative term, it was “sunsetted.” That means that this bill came with an expiration date: Ten years after its passage, it would need to be renewed. Under President Bush and a Republican Congress, the bill lapsed. And it hasn’t been renewed since.
But renewing the ban on assault weapons isn’t the only thing Congress should do to help prevent the tragedy of gun violence around the country.
It could require that every buyer go through a background check before getting a gun — to make sure dangerous weapons don’t end up in the hands of criminals or other people who have long been prohibited from possessing them. It could prevent people who are suspected of having terrorist ties and can’t get on a plane from buying weapons of war — that’s just common sense. It could ensure that domestic abusers can’t go to the store to buy a gun — filling the kinds of gaps in the law that leave too many innocent victims dead. It could end the freeze on gun violence research, so our public health experts can collect data and facts that would inform strategies to deal with this epidemic. And it could give law enforcement officials the tools and resources the President requested in his budget proposal — so they can take dangerous criminals off the street and enforce our gun laws. Our Administration has done what it can. So have many cities, counties, and states.
Now it’s up to Congress to do its job.
They’ll have a good opportunity this Monday, when the Senate is set to vote on a number of different gun safety measures — votes that came about after that 15-hour filibuster, during which a series of Democratic senators refused to cede the floor. The measures they will vote on would address the fact that anyone on a terrorist watch list can still legally purchase guns and explosives. They will address the current background check requirements for prospective gun buyers.
Ahead of those votes, we’d like to invite you to join a call at 1pm EST for We the People signers with Valerie Jarrett on how we can continue to come together as citizens around this issue. Let us know you’ll be joining right here — and ask any questions you’ve got, or issues you’d like to hear raised on the call.
I encourage you to pay attention to Monday’s votes. Make yourselves aware. Use your voice. Make yourselves impossible to ignore.
Because you’re not alone in recognizing the need to act — to take steps, consistent with the Second Amendment — that will keep our children and communities safe. Here’s who else agrees with you: The Department of Justice. Dozens of United States Senators. Faith leaders, law enforcement officials, and responsible businesses. Public health experts. And the vast majority of the American people, including the vast majority of gun owners in the country.
If taking commonsense steps to reduce gun violence had the potential to save even one life, it would be worth doing. But it has the potential to save far more than that.
You know that. And that is why you spoke up. That matters. But the fact is that we have three separate but equal branches of a government for a reason.
And so, to speak directly to those members of Congress who, in the wake of this most recent, most horrific killing of our citizens, might be considering stepping up and getting this done once and for all, I’d like to remind you that this will not stop on its own. It will not stop. In the three and a half years since Newtown, there have been at least 1,002 mass shootings in this country. At least 1,135 people killed, and 3,953 wounded. That includes 49 killed and 53 wounded in Orlando.
You know in your heart that this is the right thing to do. You know that by stepping up, your action has the potential to create a domino effect. Have the courage to do it.
We have done it before. We can do it again.
Vice President Joseph Biden
The White House
And after reading this I realized that our collective voice has power. In an increasingly divisive American electorate I may be fooling myself by believing that I can sway anyone to believe what I believe, but I am going to try anyway. And the best way I know how is through a simple equation- logic+humor+personal experience. So if you consider yourself an open minded reader of my blog, please follow along:
- You may not love Samantha Bee, but I do. She is a strong, opinionated, and smart woman. A role model of mine who uses logic, statistics, and literature to make her point:
And if that was a just little too tongue in cheek for you, how about checking on the gun laws and gun deaths in each state in America?
Or check out your state’s gun scorecard and how it compares to other states:
Boy, do I miss Maryland!
- Ok, so logic and statistics aren’t for everyone….maybe you are curious about what other global cultures think about America’s gun culture? Or maybe you just need a good laugh…
- If you choose to write off people who ‘just don’t get America’s history with guns’ then perhaps you will listen to my experience as a two year Army ROTC cadet and scholarship recipient training to be a member of the US Armed forces.
Yes, that is me in the middle as an ROTC cadet. I learned how to shoot and care for guns. I knew how to take apart, clean, and reassemble an M-16 in minutes. We learned how lob hand grenades and slept with our guns at night when we made camp on mock reconnaissance missions.
It was during one such ‘field weekend’ when we had a mock mission that I began to hate guns. And not in that ‘let’s just ban the big ones’ or ‘I’m not trying to take away all your guns’ kind of way, but in the same way Australia said ‘our people getting mowed down by these weapons is shit’ and ‘there is no right that justifies this kind of death and carnage’ kind of way.
We were patrolling with M-16s and tasked with keeping our platoon safe. Suddenly I heard guns (this was all with rubber bullets and fake amo of course) but every member my platoon immediately dropped to the ground and tried to secure the area. In the confusion of the scene and the struggle to protect myself and those around me I dropped to the ground as well- which, btw, is a real struggle with 40lbs of gear on your 100 lb. frame- and shot in the direction of the gunfire and at what all of my senses, innate and logical, told me was the enemy.
After the exercise was over I found out that I, in fact, had ‘shot and killed’ a (fake) member of the press who was on the mission with us. Our commanding officers joked ‘Way to go, Throne, you killed a journalist.’
I laughed along with the other cadets and officers but as I reflected back on the exercise I started to think about what that would mean in real life. I had received copious training, I had respect for and knowledge of guns. I was smart and logical and even fairly cool-headed is such a heated situation. And if it had been real life I still would have taken a life. And an innocent life.
The feeling that left me with was so strong it spurred much of my decision to withdraw from ROTC and leave a military career a year later. The guilt of and burden of what that could mean was more than human beings are prepared for and my situation was just an ounce of what real life would offer.
The bottom line is, I was a smart and trained individual who made a mistake that could have taken a life. Imagine what individuals with less training and knowledge could do? Unfortunately we have seen what individuals with less mental stability can do.
In my dream world- and maybe this is an indication I should move to Australia (Luke do you read this blog?? )- there would be no guns. But since I know that is not realistic, I suppose I could make my birthday wish this year that if you are reading this, you do not let this most recent horror pass us by without action. Please sign a petition, write your senator, or take some kind of action to ban assault rifles and restrict access to guns for dangerous individuals.
I am a student of American history and recognize why the second amendment holds great significance for the past, but for our future and for the lost future of victims of gun violence please recognize that our human rights to life and safety outweigh our American right to bear arms. You don’t have to hate guns like I do, but if you hate the carnage and devastation than can cause then please do something to stop it.