The daily toll of gun murders, and the increasing frequency and scale of mass shootings, have finally forced Washington to rethink gun policy.
Predictably, emotions are running high on TV talk shows and congressional panels. So it's a good time to remind ourselves that Americans -- including gun owners -- actually agree about what to do now, and have for a very long time.
From requiring criminal background checks on all gun sales to getting military-style assault weapons off our streets, Americans understand that it's entirely possible to respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and do much more to keep people safe. The nation may be politically divided, but on guns there has long been a broad and enduring consensus.
The only people who seem to disagree are the National Rifle Association's Washington lobbyists. What was once a modest gun rights and gun safety organization is long gone. Today, as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, it is principally a marketing organization, and its flagship product is fear.
This sad development was on full display during Wednesday's Senate hearing on gun violence, where NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre claimed that background checks for gun buyers -- a two-minute process that most gun buyers are happy to undergo -- will become "a universal federal nightmare imposed upon law-abiding people all over the country."
As an alternative, LaPierre has suggested that the answer to guns is more guns -- in the hands of almost anyone, in almost every place in America: every classroom, every daycare center, every movie theater, every shopping mall, every place of worship.
If more guns in more places is the NRA's proposal, we've run a pretty good pilot project -- and the results aren't good. The U.S. already has more firearms per capita than any other nation, making it the most heavily armed civilian population in the world. We have a gun murder rate that is more than 10 times higher than all other developed countries. This correlation has lost the power to surprise -- except perhaps for LaPierre, who believes "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
If only it were that simple. This isn't just about good guys and bad guys. Very often, the good guys get shot by bad guys with guns. This is about smart policies and dangerous ones.
Gun owners know this, too. Those like my dad, a former firearms dealer in Colorado, are mainstream Americans with mainstream views on guns. That's why 74% of NRA members and 87% of non-NRA gun owners believe all gun buyers should get a criminal background check. A CBS/New York Times poll released on January 17 found 93% of those living in households with gun owners and 85% in households with NRA members support background checks.
They believe we have the right to bear arms, and they believe with rights come responsibilities. An instant background check is not too high a price to pay, when we know the current system -- even with big loopholes -- has saved many lives.
We have the right to go to the movies without being gunned down in our seats. We have the right to pray in our houses of worship without being victimized by a mentally unstable young man and his assault weapon. More than anything, we have the right to send our kids to school in the morning with the guarantee that they'll return home in the afternoon.
Until lawmakers stand up to the gun lobby and stand up for the people they represent, the death toll will only continue to rise -- 33 people murdered with guns, every day, everywhere, in the world's indispensable nation.
When they do, they'll have major police organizations, survivors of gun violence, faith leaders, domestic violence opponents, many millions of parents, and more than 850 Mayors Against Illegal Guns standing with them.
If it's electoral retribution they're worried about, they should look at the last election. After investing more millions than ever to defeat President Barack Obama and elect pro-gun politicians, the NRA had one of the worst success rates of all political groups: a 0.83% return on a massive investment of its members' hard-earned money.
We can pass commonsense gun laws that will save many lives. The American people are demanding it, the president is demanding it, the families of the dead are demanding it.
It's time for our leaders to buck the NRA's Washington lobbyists. It's not as hard as they think.
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