Today, in Santa Fe, Texas, located in Adrienne Bell’s district (TX-14), the 22nd school shooting of 2018 unfolded when a gunman opened fire shortly after classes began at 7:30 a.m. local time, killing 10 and wounding more. In the wake of today’s shooting, the deadly Parkland mass shooting and the March for Our Lives, one thing is crystal clear: Americans are done with establishment politicians and their inaction on the gun violence epidemic. Legislators can no longer hide behind empty “thoughts and prayers,” and will be held accountable for their capitulation to the gun lobby.
With political will finally shifting in favor of action, we must act swiftly to address not just the symptoms of the gun violence epidemic, but the root causes. Since Columbine, we have seen essentially no change at the federal level, with politicians more concerned with lobbyist money than the very lives of their constituents.
Together with the candidates on our slate, Brand New Congress has outlined the essential steps Congress can and must take to effectively address this national public safety crisis.
Address the real relationship between mental health and gun violence — providing mental health care and preventing suicides
Rather than address the epidemic, politicians have used diversion tactics to avoid taking action. They often use mental illness as a scapegoat for mass shootings, claiming that we should be focusing on mental health instead of gun safety. This is not only dishonest but also dangerous, as it stigmatizes mental illness and puts blame where it is not deserved. The truth is that less than 1% of mass shooters are seriously mentally ill, and people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of mass shootings than perpetrators. If mental health were the only causation factor, other countries with similar rates of mental health issues would also have similar rates of gun violence. They do not.
However, mental health is relevant to gun violence prevention in another sense. The majority of gun deaths in the United States are suicides. If we are truly to reduce gun violence, we need to help people with mental illness, not push for policies that perpetuate harmful myths and waste precious resources that could be put towards genuinely effective suicide prevention measures.
Promote systems and services that deal with the root cause of gun violence — such as Medicare for All and fully funded public schools
What do these genuinely effective measures look like? For one, we need Medicare-for-All that includes comprehensive mental health care coverage to ensure that every American has the support they need in times of trouble. Additionally, we need to increase the number of school psychologists so that students have professional support in school. Currently, because of cuts to public school funding, the ratio of students per school psychologist is 1,000+ to one. And the spending cuts have come from the very same politicians who pivot to mental health when asked about gun violence. We must reverse this trend so that every school is equipped to support their students’ mental health needs.
Schools can also be integral to promoting a culture that discourages violence. If we are to meaningfully address the culture of violence behind the gun violence epidemic, we need to instill in our education system values that will curb violent behavior. We can do so by teaching de-escalation and peaceful conflict resolution and instituting mindfulness programs, which have been found to help students cope with both clinical and nonclinical problems.
Empower and mandate comprehensive background checks, safe-storage requirements, and gun safety training
Of course, fostering a culture of responsibility must also include measures mandating responsible gun ownership and accountability that adhere to the constitutional framework set forth in the 2008 Heller decision from the United States Supreme Court, which allows “reasonable restrictions” on gun ownership. We can do so by requiring anyone seeking a gun to undergo a comprehensive background check and pass written and performance-based tests, proving that they can safely and responsibly possess and use firearms. We require hunters to attend weekend long hunter safety courses before being issued a hunter’s license. Similar requirements for purchasing firearms should be a reasonable compromise that both protects the Second Amendment rights of gun owners while also helping prevent ineligible owners from obtaining firearms. If these tests are passed, gun owners should also be required to use security devices such as locks for each and every gun to ensure safe storage. Requiring these measures would greatly reduce unauthorized access while simultaneously fixing the private sale problem.
On the subject of improving background checks to close the “gun show loophole” and similar private sales, Brand New Congress candidate James Thompson wrote the following in March:
“I enjoy going to gun shows. I have sold guns at gun shows. However, to resist the implementation of instant background checks is unnecessary. This resistance is simply fear-mongering, and in the light of this most recent tragedy, it’s madness. A system giving a thumbs up or thumbs down for guns sales can be instituted to allow background checks by private sellers, so private sales and trades can occur safely within the Constitutional bounds of the law. To make this program work, Congress must focus on encouraging full participation of every state in this instant background check program, not settling for the patchwork system we have now that provides lack of consistency state to state.”
James Thompson, Candidate for Congress, KS-04
A properly maintained database and instant background check system would better protect victims of domestic violence by more effectively flagging offenders and preventing them from purchasing a weapon, as current law mandates. 4.5 million women have been subjected to firearm threats by an intimate partner. About one-third of abusive households are also gun households. In two-thirds of these households, the abuser used the firearm(s) against their partner. Domestic violence victims are five times more likely to be killed if there is access to a gun in their household. In 64.5% of abusive households with a firearm, the abuser used the firearm against the victim. Preventing violent people from getting their hands on firearms works. In states that check for restraining orders and fugitive status, firearm homicides, intimate partner homicides, and overall homicides are lower. Allowing abusers to get their hands on firearms is enabling violence and abuse, plain and simple. We can and must do better.
Repeal the Dickey Amendment and fully fund research into our gun violence epidemic
Finally, we need to support more gun research to develop sustainable long-term solutions to preventing gun violence. The Center on Disease Control is presently prohibited from using appropriated budget funds to advocate or promote gun safety reform because of the Dickey Amendment. While the language of this amendment did not outright ban gun research, the broad language of the amendment meant agencies such as the CDC risked losing funding critical to their operation by engaging in gun-related research. Explicit or not, the effect was achieved, and the Dickey Amendment has served as an effective ban on this public safety issue.
Thanks to this 22-year-old legislation, we’ve lost over two decades worth of research into gun safety, and our children are paying for it. Despite all the political grandstanding and hype around gun research in the spending bill passed earlier this year, the bill fails to overrule the Dickey Amendment or allocate funding for research. Congress must repeal the Dickey Amendment and allocate funding for gun research.
Get money out of politics and elect representatives who answer to their constituents, not gun manufacturers and the NRA
Controlled by corporate cash, Congress has time and time again chosen to favor lobbyists over our lives. That’s why, in order to enact effective gun safety measures, we need to get money out of politics to guarantee that our representatives will truly represent our best interests.
Know that change is inevitable
Our legislators should have dealt with the epidemic of gun violence decades ago. But change is not impossible. We have a real opportunity now to change the composition of Congress and elect real Americans who will fight for real change in Washington. We marched for our lives. Now we must vote for them.