Editor’s Note: Capt. Mark Kelly is a United States Navy combat veteran, retired NASA astronaut, and co-founder of Americans for Responsible Solutions. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Mark Kelly: There is a vocal majority in our country that is demanding action to prevent needless gun tragedies
We are prepared to fight the new administration and the new Congress on policies that threaten our communities, he says
I flew 39 combat missions in Operation Desert Storm and left our planet four times in a spaceship. I always thought I had a risky job. But it wasn’t until my wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was nearly assassinated that I learned she had faced a more present danger.
Since that horrible day six years ago, I’ve also learned a lot about life and about second chances.
Nearly all people who experience the kind of injury Gabby suffered – a bullet to the head at near point-blank range – die. And those who do not die often have personalities and cognitive abilities that are drastically changed.
But Gabby lived.
Gabby was given another chance at life – and at service. So this fall, we traveled across the country to campaign for candidates up and down the ballot who have supported common-sense gun violence prevention policies.
We met some really interesting people along the way – gun owners, law enforcement officers, veterans – and we learned that they, too, are fed up with our nation’s gun violence crisis.
How dangerous is this crisis? Every year, about 33,000 Americans die from gun violence. Americans are nearly 20 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other high-income peer countries.
Fortunately, there is a vocal majority in our country that is demanding action to prevent needless gun tragedies that claim innocent lives.
This November, we saw voters support gun violence prevention candidates for Congress, most notably in New Hampshire’s Senate race, where Gov. Maggie Hassan defeated incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Our organization, Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, launched an aggressive campaign to hold Sen. Ayotte accountable for her poor record on gun safety.
In tight congressional races like Nevada’s 4th and Florida’s 7th Congressional Districts, gun violence prevention candidates ran – and won – on strengthening gun laws. In fact, 73% of our endorsed candidates won, and voters in three states – Nevada, Washington, and California – approved gun safety ballot measures in greater numbers than votes in those states for Hillary Clinton, showing this issue is compelling to people across the political spectrum.
In the wake of the 2016 election, we at Americans for Responsible Solutions are redoubling our commitment to preventing gun tragedies that occur every day in this country.
First, in the days after the election we launched the Firearms Accountability Counsel Taskforce (FACT), comprised of the country’s top law firms. These firms are devoting hundreds of lawyers, thousands of hours, and millions of dollars, pro bono, to taking action against dangerous gun policies and holding the corporate gun lobby accountable for unlawful business practices that endanger public safety. Borrowing from successful impact litigation movements to achieve marriage equality, make automobiles safer, and hold Big Tobacco accountable, we are going on offense to create safer communities.
Second, we will be prepared to fight the new administration and the new Congress on policies that threaten our communities. The gun lobby is seeking to allow guns into schools – an issue education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos expressed support for during her Senate confirmation hearing just this week.
They’re also pushing to ignore states’ rights by mandating the unrestricted “concealed carry” of firearms and allow free access to dangerous silencers, which would let criminals conceal murder and introduce a menacing new threat to our communities. These policies are a public safety threat, as the son of two New Jersey police officers, I believe law enforcement will not stand for them.
Third, we will elect more gun violence prevention champions and fight for gun safety policies in 2018 and 2020. To do this, we will continue to reach out to nontraditional allies, including rural and independent voters who support commonsense solutions to our gun violence problem. We know that a plurality of rural voters who helped propel President Trump to victory want stronger gun laws. And we will do everything in our power to engage these constituencies.
Views on the Donald Trump Inauguration
In addition to communicating with voters about their candidate choices, we will also begin addressing more fundamental attitudes about the safety of firearms and the responsibility of owning them – because the critical fights over policy and politics must not come at the expense of a meaningful conversation about culture.
Finally, we will work with anyone who is committed to making our families safer – including President Trump. Although the gun lobby spent a record $30 million supporting his campaign, Donald Trump has recognized and endorsed some new measures to reduce gun violence. Even his nominee for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, whose nomination has been strongly supported by the gun lobby, has acknowledged that we need to do a better job of enforcing our nation’s existing federal gun laws. We firmly believe that keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, like suspected terrorists, domestic abusers, and gun traffickers, shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
Gabby and I returned to public service in the hopes that we could save lives by bringing Americans together around responsible, commonsense gun safety policies – Americans who are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and gun owners like us. That goal does not change with Donald Trump in the White House.
We remain inspired by the countless Americans who’ve had enough of the gun lobby’s influence and our government’s failure to pass meaningful solutions to reduce gun violence.
Now, more than ever, we must turn that sentiment into action and continue the fight for safer communities.