The reality is bleak: 33 Americans are killed and 260 wounded from gun violence daily. Yesterday, as the culmination of its No More Names bus tour, which reached 25 states in 100 days, Mayors Against Illegal Guns rallied at the Capitol to urge Congress to pass a bill enforcing mandatory background checks for potential gun owners.
Spearheaded in 2006 by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, MAIG began with 15 mayors, and has since grown to more than 1,000. The group’s goal is to make American communities safer by reducing the number of illegally obtained guns and by holding dealers accountable for potential gun-purchasers.
At the Hill gathering, representatives from myriad groups came together to advocate for stricter background checks and to push Congress out of their inaction. Tuesday, the Senate postponed a hearing on the legality of “Stand Your Ground” laws — on the heels of Monday’s Navy Yard gun violence.
Congressional representatives, mayors, police officers, military veterans, NRA members, women’s organizations, advocacy groups such as Mothers Demanding Action, faith community leaders (rabbis, priests, and pastors), university groups, children, gun violence survivors, and family members of those who have lost someone to gun violence were all in attendance at the No More Names rally. A broad coalition: racially, socioeconomically, and generationally diverse, as indiscriminant as the bullets that affect us all.
Carly Soto, sister of Vicky, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook who died shielding her students, related how that moment shattered her childlike innocence and made her realize “this world is not as I thought it was.” At 19 years old, she picked out her sister’s casket, prayer cards, and the clothes Vicky was laid to rest in.
Also in attendance was Army Col. Bill Badger, who helped take down the shooter in Tucson that wounded 18, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and killed six, including a 9-year-old girl and an Arizona District Court Chief Judge. Badger affirmed that any proposed policy should be bipartisan. As a self-proclaimed gun owner and Republican, he argued that the debate over gun regulations should not be viewed an issue pitting gun owners against non-owners.
Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) emphasized a common point: The push for background checks is in no way intended to impinge on the Second Amendment. Contrarily, he related how he has been a gun owner most of his life and how he will always be a gun owner. But he said that as a father and grandfather, he wants every precaution, including universal background checks, to be taken to reduce the number of guns in the hands of criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill.
A poll indicates that 74 percent of NRA members support requiring criminal background checks on any gun purchase.
Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Fort Hood, Navy Yard ... how many more tragedies will have to occur until our elected officials actually respond to the demand of 91 percent of the electorate who favor required criminal background checks for all gun sales?
Even though entrenched special interest groups use scare tactics, progress has been made in several states that have advanced safety measures in gun purchases, said Mark Glaze, Executive Director of the mayors group. These include “purple” states and those that have traditionally held their gun rights sacred – like Nevada and Colorado.
Last Spring, Sojourners held a gun violence prevention vigil, symbolically planting thousands of grave markers on the National Mall, one cross standing in place for one person who was killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook massacre. The powerful imagery and 24-hour prayer vigil indicated the faith community’s response and call to action on behalf of our communities to those holding law-making power.
Accountability must be ramped up. Universal background checks are common sense for the common good. Nine out of 10 Americans are ready. Let’s set our sights on Congress and persevere in belief and action and pursue the things that make for peace.
Anna Hall is campaigns assistant for Sojourners.