There is no doubt that the high profile shootings of Aurora and Newton have reignited public debate over gun control. Senate Democrats are now pushing for gun-control legislation that would have universal background checks as one of its key provisions.
However, as Senate Democrats and gun-control advocates push for this legislation, the Republican side is skeptical, stating that it makes no sense to add universal background checks when current checks are not enforced. Republican senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have all threatened to filibuster the debate and full floor vote.
The Senate has returned from spring break only today, and no vote has been scheduled yet, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been expected to bring the legislation to the floor in May next month.
Gun control is certainly a contentious issue in the nation. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University found that last month some 53 percent of Americans supported tougher gun control laws, while 42 percent opposed.
Stop Handgun Violence is a non-profit organization that seeks to prevent gun violence through public awareness, effective law enforcement, education and common sense gun laws. Stop Handgun Violence does not call for a curtailment of the Constitutional right to bear arms, but, rather, advocates for common sense gun legislation that can help save innocent lives.
The following is an interview with John Rosenthal, Founder and Chairman of Stop Handgun Violence, on his thoughts and feelings about the pending gun-control legislation.
In your opinion, does the pending legislation offer the type of gun control you would like to see at the federal level?
Yes! The President’s proposals for universal background checks for all gun sales, limiting the ammunition magazine size to ten rounds, and renewing a federal ban on military-style assault weapons combined with federal gun trafficking laws that do not exist now and support for law enforcement, will all dramatically save lives in America from preventable gun violence without any inconvenience to law-abiding gun owners.
Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas are threatening to filibuster any restrictions on guns, citing the “the American people’s right to bear arm” in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, what is your response to this move?
I cannot understand how any elected official or American can support unrestricted and undetected access to firearms by criminals, the mentally ill as well as domestic and international terrorists, which is currently allowed by US gun policy. For those senators to continue to support unrestricted access to guns without a background check for criminals is criminal, and an indication of their priorities, which is unrestricted access to the gun industry blood money campaign contributions over public health and safety. They are hijacking our democracy in exchange for blood money campaign contributions at the expense of 87 Americans killed everyday by guns. 87 daily including 8 children under 19, that is a Newtown Elementary School massacre every three days in the US.
Currently, a Republican alternative gun control legislation is in the works, which is supposed to include tougher laws on illegal gun trafficking, straw purchases, and to increase efforts to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and keep schools safe. How do you feel about this alternative?
It is missing essential pieces. How do you know if someone is mentally ill or criminal unless they have to undergo a background check before they buy a gun? What does making schools safer mean to them? It means armed vigilantes with assault weapons, including teachers. That does not foster a safe and comfortable learning environment for our children. Of the high profile mass shootings that occurred over the last twenty years, none of those were perpetrated by an adjudicated mentally ill person. Now, we are all capable of mental illness, but the system, the mental health system, protects privacy, and, unless you put all mental health records into a database, including being institutionalized by yourself or family vs the state, which is the current requirement for the mental health record to be included. Unless you run a background check on all gun purchases what’s the point? Garbage in, garbage out. The uniquely unregulated gunindustry and their NRA lobbyists are opposed to a background check for criminals, but without such a background check there is no sense in any other provision. Further, the common denominator in every high profile mass shooting including Newtown, Aurora, Webster and Columbine are large ammunition magazines and assault style pistols and rifles. These have to be banned to have an impact. Police officers are given thirteen to seventeen rounds in their service weapons, why does congress allow 30 – 100 rounds for criminals and the mentally ill without detection? Eleven children in Newtown escaped a classroom when Lanza had to reload. That is eleven children who are alive today because the shooter had to reload his Bushmaster assault rifle with a 30 round magazine. Adam Lanza shot 154 rounds within 4 minutes! Police officers die when they have to reload with thirteen rounds while criminals fire away with 30 to 100 rounds. Duck hunters are limited to three rounds by federal license to protect the duck population, so why does congress allow 30 -100 round magazines to kill the American population?
Do you think that maybe what is truly needed is to simply keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have access to them (e.g. the mentally ill) rather than make it tougher for law-abiding citizens to purchase firearms?
I am a law-abiding gun owner and I buy my firearms from Federal gun dealers because I can pass a background check and federally licensed dealers are the only gun sellers required to run a background check. But private gun dealers do not have to run a background check and they sell 40 to 50 percent of all guns in the US. How do you know if someone is mentally ill or prohibited from owning a gun or a convicted criminal if you do not have a background check requirement? It is that simple! Who wants to sell guns to the mentally ill or criminals without a background check or detection? The sad answer to that question is Congress, spineless members of Congress who are owned or intimated by the unregulated and greedy gun industry and their blood money campaign contributions. Whose side are they on?
What are some of the accomplishments of Stop Handgun Violence in the realm of gun-control?
Massachusetts is an urban, industrial state, and we have the most effective gun laws and the first in the nation consumer protection standards for firearms. Massachusetts has the lowest firearm fatality rate of any urban state and second lowest in the nation behind isolated Hawaii! We have proven the gun industry’s worst nightmare: gun laws work! And we simply require safety training, safe storage, universal background checks, renewable licensing and consumer protection standards, like an automobile, and we prohibit the sale of ammunition magazines greater than 10 rounds and military style assault weapons. The President has modeled much of his federal legislative proposals after the successful Massachusetts model. And as a gun owner none of that, none of the reasonable restrictions in Massachusetts which have proven to reduce gun injury and death by over 40 percent since 1994, negatively impact me as a law-abiding citizen. Our priority in Massachusetts has been to reduce injury and death without banning guns. Federal policy dictated by the gun industry and their spineless puppets in Congress is to increase gun sales without detection, and to increase gun violence and in particular, high profile mass shootings which increases fear and gun sales. Gun violence in turn increase gun industry profits and blood money contributions back to Congress as payback. There is a spike in gun sales after every high profile mass shooting like Columbine, VA Tech, Aurora and Newtown. The gun industry is uniquely unregulated. I have a toy gun in my hand that has a red dot at the end of the barrel, that is a federal manufacturing requirement so a police officer knows it is a toy. Real guns have no federal regulations on how they are made or marketed, and unlike toy guns which are regulated, real result in 87 deaths a day and remain unregulated. Further Congress gave absolute immunity to the gun industry so they cannot be sued even for marketing and selling guns directly to criminals and terrorists. Two of the guns used at Columbine were marketed as having a finish resistant to fingerprintings! These guns were also bought at a gun show where no background check was required.
If this legislation does not pass, what will be the next step for Stop Handgun Violence?
Massachusetts will improve in all likelihood its gun laws. Connecticut and Colorado already have, but look at the price they paid before they did it. Every year that goes by that there are no changes to our federal gun policy another 30,000 – 40,000 Americans will die from largely preventable gun violence. So I would hope if this Congress does not change national gun laws, we will change Congress in 2014. Hopefully we will throw the bums out. Eventually we need to hold Congress accountable if they continue to refuse to vote in favor of public safety over their own self-preservation in office. But if we wait until 2014 that will be another 60,000 – 70,000 more dead Americans from preventable gun violence. Since 1980, more Americans have died from guns inside the United States than all US servicemen and women killed in all foreign wars combined!
Interview with John Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence, Newton, Massachusetts