More than three weeks ago, Senate voted down several measures to expand gun control. According to a recent Pew polling, the American public is almost evenly split on the issue. Fifty percent say controlling gun ownership is most important and 46% say it is more important to protect the rights of gun owners.
It is nearly impossible to obtain a complete tally of gun deaths for any period of time. Looking at recent news stories, however, it is clear that they are taking a toll on families and communities around the country. Among the most recent is a two-year-old killed by her 5-year-old brother. The gun he received as a gift is one marketed directly to children with the slogan, “My First Rifle.” Last week, a thirteen-year-old boy in Florida accidentally shot his six-year-old sister in the chest. Then, there are cities like Chicago, where experts are calling gun violence a public health crisis. Chicago reported 506 gun murders in 2012 and the numbers for 2013 are projected to be even higher.
One April 17, the Senate voted down a bipartisan measure to increase background checks – six votes shy of moving the bill forward. The National Rifle Association (NRA) drummed up support and paranoia by falsely telling people that the bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Manchin (D- WV), was the first step towards a gun owners registry. Unsurprisingly, this was not stated or implied in any of the Senate legislation.
The NRA called May 4 “Gun Day” in honor of bills that the Texas House passed exempting the state from participating in future federal restrictions on assault rifles and allowing university students to carry guns to school. In a similar move, Kansas passed a “Second Amendment Protection Act” last month that makes any attempt at enforcing a federal gun control law a felony. Similar bills have been introduced in at least 37 other states.
“Mobilizing the pre-Civil War Confederate doctrine of ‘nullification,’ these bills assert that Congress has overstepped its ability to regulate guns — and that states, not the Supreme Court, have the ultimate authority to decide whether a law is constitutional or not,” wrote Lois Beckett in ProPublica.
Some states are taking proactive steps toward progressive gun control efforts, though. New Jersey, which already has strict gun laws, is stepping up with increased regulation where federal legislation has failed. Proposed changes will include an updated FBI firearms database with names of people with criminal records or histories of mental illness, and a firearm ID embedded in driver’s licenses. Los Angeles has also made inroads by a strategy of community policing in specific neighborhoods with police officers that know the local residents and work with parolees returning to their neighborhoods.
None of these factors are likely to change before the next vote and if any kind of legislation passes, it will likely be so stripped down that it will have little effectual change. It is time for gun control states to follow in the footsteps of New Jersey and others by taking matters into their own hands. It’s time to require more of our representatives than their vote on a federal bill. They need to work with their state legislatures and other local politicians to craft laws that will drastically reduce gun violence in our communities. We should demand no less.