The recent tragic shootings in Dayton and El Paso once again show the urgent need to address the gun violence epidemic plaguing our country. My heart mourns for the families and communities that are dealing with the aftermath of these tragedies.
Shootings like the one in El Paso, and last month’s at the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, also make it clear that we are facing a full-fledged crisis of gun violence fueled by white nationalism.
The president’s hateful rhetoric is also fueling this violence. And Senate Republicans’ refusal to take action on gun violence is allowing these tragedies to continue – from Walmart in El Paso, to Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy, to synagogues in Poway, California, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
That’s on top of the constant gun violence experienced in some communities — especially communities of color — in cities like Oakland in my district.
The inaction must end. It’s past time for the Senate to act on this public health crisis.
Last week, Trump claimed to be concerned about the radicalization of white supremacists on the Internet. But he neglected to acknowledge his role in spewing racist and anti-immigrant ideas. I am saddened but not surprised by Trump’s racist and hateful words. He has made his beliefs about people of color clear for decades, from his attack on the exonerated Central Park 5, to discriminating against African-American renters, calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, and attempting to delegitimize the first African-American president by claiming he was born in Kenya.
Trump also called on Democrats and Republicans to “come together” to pass legislation for stronger background checks. But the truth is, Senate Republicans have been standing in the way of that legislation — not House Democrats.
For six months, Senate Republicans have been sitting on bipartisan gun reform bills. These bills would require background checks for nearly all gun purchases and extend the waiting period for people who want to buy guns from licensed dealers.
Sadly, instead of working with Democrats in the Senate and a bipartisan coalition in the House, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is blocking meaningful gun safety legislation that would keep Americans safe — all while congressional Republicans defend the president no matter how blatantly racist he is.
Despite the Senate’s inaction, as a member of the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, I have continued fighting to address gun violence as a public health epidemic. This year, for the first time in more than 20 years, House Democrats included $25 million in funding for gun-violence-prevention research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Gun violence should be studied like every other epidemic in our country, with dedicated federal funding for research to address this critical issue.
What has to happen now is clear: Leader McConnell needs to call an emergency session of the Senate and lead his party in passing the gun safety bills sitting on his desk. That’s why I joined 214 of my Democratic colleagues in the House in signing a letter urging him to take action. Sixty percent of Americans support stricter gun laws, according to the Giffords Law Center. If the president is serious about addressing this issue, then demanding action from the Senate is an obvious place to start.
But even the bills already passed by the House aren’t enough by themselves. We have to supplement background checks with red flag laws so that friends and relatives can flag for authorities when they believe a loved one shouldn’t be allowed to have a gun. We also need to return to a full assault weapons ban, because weapons of war don’t belong on our streets.
Every day, about 100 people die from gun violence. We cannot accept an America where that is tolerated or expected. And we cannot accept a country where our leaders fuel the violence.
The American people have demanded gun safety reform for far too long. It is past time for the Senate to act and protect American lives. And it’s past time that Republican members of Congress stand with us to reject the hateful ideas emanating from the White House.
We are better than this.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee represents the 13th Congressional District, serving Oakland, Berkeley, Alameda and adjacent communities.