Opinion: Filibuster on gun safety won’t stop until policy reflects will of the people

Gun Rights

As the Congress moves to pass gun safety legislation this week to keep Americans and our children safe, while the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a century-old law in New York that will undermine the ability of states to regulate guns, we must do more to ensure our policies reflect the will of the people.  Gun violence haunts America.

My earliest memory at three years of age in Cincinnati was watching my mother’s reaction when Walter Cronkite broke into a TV program to announce President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Five years later in April 1968, I remember the principal announcing that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed in Memphis, and at the end of the school year in June that Robert Kennedy had been shot and killed in California. The world felt violent. It remains so.

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In 2022, the more than 250 mass shootings have become so common, the media does not even report them all. It’s been more than 20 years since two shooters gunned down 12 students and one teacher in Columbine, Colorado and just three weeks since a shooter killed 19 students and two teachers in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Over these many years, Congress has done almost nothing.

I remember the pressures from constituents. The first phone call I took when I became chief of staff for U.S. Congressman Rob Portman was from Harrison, Ohio, threatening me and the congressman that he would “give us a belly full of buckshot” if we did anything on gun control. The mail and phone calls were largely for protecting the rights of gun owners rather than limiting them. The wheel has turned.

A Fox News poll of registered voters conducted from June 10-13, 2022 showed that 88% support background checks to purchase guns, 82% support raising the legal age to 21 for assault rifles and 78% to raise the legal age to 21 for all guns. Moreover, 81% support red-flag laws, 80% background checks for ammunition, 77% to require a 30-day waiting period, 70% to ban high-capacity clips and 63% to ban assault weapons. The only reforms that a majority of Americans did not support are teachers and more citizens carrying guns. 

As always, Americans seem to have a high dose of common sense. Passing “red-flag” laws, for example, would make it easier to remove guns from potentially dangerous people and would protect Americans from violence without an undue burden on the Second Amendment. 

Multiple studies have found certain characteristics common to mass shooters: nearly all are males who act alone, experienced significant stress or loss at home, and plan their actions in advance. Some have histories of domestic violence, exhibit behavioral problems at home and school, and have been bullied by peers. Still others suffer mental health challenges, often undiagnosed. With social media that broadens attention, many shooters exhibit one of the most reliable indicators of potentially dangerous people – ”pre-violence leakage” in communicating their plans in advance to other people.  Studies from California show that red-flag laws were used in response to 21 threats of mass shootings, several involving schools. Think of the lives saved, the loss avoided.

Other sensible policies include universal background checks to purchase a gun and closing various loopholes; raising the legal age to purchase guns to at least 21; banning assault weapons; increasing mental health and school safety supports; and more.  When NRA member, Vietnam veteran, and gun owner Richard Small from a town south of Ulvade, Texas saw the slaughter at Robb Elementary School, he turned in his AR-15 rifle to the police and said it wasn’t needed for hunting or self-defense. Non-service members should not have a right to a military arsenal.

The Second Amendment confers an important right and we should honor it. We should also read it – ”A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The amendment contemplates regulation in its preamble, in the context of militias necessary for the protection of the country and confers that right in the context of this security. Congress and states can clearly provide limits that will keep the public safe and protect individual liberty.

History teaches us, however, that the views of even supermajorities of Americans do not always translate into congressional action, frameworks into laws, and negotiations into filibuster-proof majorities in the Senate that can ensure final enactment.  That’s why over the past few weeks, Americans across political parties, sectors, gun ownership, or other divides joined together to launch a people’s filibuster for gun safety. Testifying 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, Americans are raising their voices. Some are survivors or family members of Columbine, Parkland, Sandy Hook, Pulse, and Ulvade; others are NRA members, gun owners, and hunters; and there are family members of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., still speaking about the impact those shootings had on the rest of their lives.

The people’s filibuster has unleashed voices across America that reflects and overwhelming consensus on gun safety. And there is a spirit of national unity borne of shared pain and the desire to protect our children and people into a more hopeful future.

John M. Bridgeland is a native of Cincinnati, former chief of staff and legislative director to Ohio Congressman Rob Portman and Ohio Congressman Bob McEwen. He is co-founder of 24-7: The People’s Filibuster for Gun Safety, and former director of the White House Domestic Policy for President George W. Bush. 

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