Capt. Mark Kelly: We need criminal background checks to prevent gun violence
Since Congress stands with the gun lobby, President Obama felt compelled to act
Editor’s Note: Capt. Mark Kelly (USN, Ret.) is a combat veteran, retired NASA astronaut and co-founder with his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, of Americans for Responsible Solutions. Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman, is a survivor of the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. Kelly is an invited guest for the CNN Town Hall “Guns in America” at 8 p.m. ET Thursday.
“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”
You hear that a lot in our country’s debate on how to prevent gun tragedies. And it is absolutely true.
I say that as the son of two police officers, as someone who served in combat in Operation Desert Storm and as someone who owns guns. I’ve seen firsthand the important role guns play in the hands of responsible, law-abiding people.
I’ve also seen the damage guns can do when they fall into the wrong hands.
My wife, Gabby, saw that destruction firsthand five years ago tomorrow. That’s when a dangerously mentally ill young man shot her in the head from three feet away. Then he opened fire on Gabby’s constituents, taking six innocent lives, injuring 12 others and changing the lives of so many good-hearted people who loved them.
So, yes: people kill people.
The idea that our laws should focus not on guns themselves but on preventing the people most likely to do our communities harm from getting guns is exactly why criminal background checks make so much sense. They don’t prevent every tragedy like the one in Tucson five years ago, but they prevent a lot of them. They make our communities safer places to live.
And that’s why the steps President Barack Obama announced this week to narrow some of the loopholes in our gun background check system are so responsible: They help keep guns out of the wrong hands.
The President acted because Congress hasn’t in the face of our country’s gun violence crisis that claims 32,000 lives a year. Our kids are 14 times more likely be murdered with a gun than kids in other countries. Women in America are 11 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than women in our peer countries.
As a nation and a people, this is not how we want to stand out. But Congress has decided to stand down; almost every time, it has stood with the gun lobby.
So the President used his authority to act. His action narrows gaps in our laws by requiring anyone who sells a significant number of guns or operates like a commercial dealer to get a license and require their buyers to pass a criminal background check, just like existing licensed dealers already do.
With the law clarified, our law enforcement officials will be better able to enforce the laws already on the books.
It requires dealers to finally have to report lost or stolen guns. It increases the number of people processing background checks by 50% so that more dangerous people are blocked from making a purchase. And it works to strengthen funding for mental health treatment by $500 million.
This is hardly the stuff of massive upheaval. It is the stuff of common sense.
Already, though, the gun lobby’s leaders have handed out the talking points to the people they back. If you haven’t yet, you’ll probably hear them on your TV soon.
You’ll hear that this action is another step toward our government taking away the rights of law-abiding gun owners. The reality is that this proposal doesn’t restrict how many or even what kinds of guns people can buy or sell. Gabby or I could go buy another gun tomorrow just the same as we could before.
You’ll hear that the President’s proposal is out of step with the American people. Research done on behalf of the organization Gabby and I started three years ago Friday, Americans for Responsible Solutions, found that 73% of Americans said they approve of Obama specifically taking this kind of action to narrow the loopholes in our background check laws.
And gun owners? Some 64% of them said they support it.
So when you hear some members of Congress and the people who want to be our President make these claims, keep these facts in mind. And then next chance you have, ask those people some questions.
Ask them what they’ve done about the loopholes that have let dangerous people buy a gun without a background check.
Ask them if they think it makes sense for a violent felon fresh out of federal prison or a convicted domestic abuser who hurt his family in anger to have the option of buying a gun without a background check.
Ask them if they are so opposed to more gun sales being covered by a criminal background check that they think we should get rid of them all together so that not a single gun sale is covered.
Then ask them to tell you which of their constituents who are in the business of selling guns will be harmed by the simple step of requiring their customers to undergo an instant criminal background check.
For too long in this debate about gun violence, responsible gun owners’ voices haven’t truly been heard. The gun lobby has moved further and further away from the people they say they represent. And Congress has squandered its chance to protect our communities.
But President Obama seized his chance. With his action, it just got a lot harder for dangerous people to get their hands on guns. And that makes all of us safer.