Last week’s defeat of federal legislation to broaden background checks for gun buyers marks a new low for our Congress. Shame on those who voted against this commonsense and moderate measure, and thank you to Vermont Sens. Leahy and Sanders who voted in favor of it. In a telling sign of just how reactionary an already extreme group has become, the National Rifle Association used to support background checks.
Ardent gun rights supporters often invoke the argument that criminals aren’t going to follow laws relating to gun regulation and that such laws will have minimal, if any, effect. I am always surprised that this defense of the status quo goes unchallenged because it begs the question of why we bother to enact laws for anything at all.
There will always be people who break laws, but it doesn’t mean efforts to provide more aggressive oversight or stricter penalties or any number of other approaches are destined to fail; it just means that deep-seated problems require a multi-pronged approach.
According to a study by the Children’s Defense Fund, approximately 2,800 children and teens die by guns annually. This dismal number is higher than the combined number of American troops who are killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in any given year. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof notes that more than twice as many preschoolers die each year from gun violence in the United States as compared to the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
As concerned citizens, we cannot let Congress’ failure of leadership be the last word on this public health crisis. The grieving families of Newtown and all of those who have been touched by gun violence deserve better.