We need common sense, not hyperbole, to guide guns debate

March 5, 2018
In The News

Our public square is wrought with divisiveness and hyperbole. Many of the issues before the 115th Congress have bipartisan areas of agreement, like health care, immigration and infrastructure improvements. Unfortunately, radical political actors on both sides and an all-too-complicit media polarize these issues, derailing efforts to provide progress for the American people.

It’s happening again right now, while parents are still mourning.

Like everyone, I believe the safety of our children is paramount, especially in schools. The National Rifle Association has received immense criticism following the devastating school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and much has been said about the NRA’s spending during my 2016 campaign. As a result of that independent expenditure by an independent organization, I’ve been called an accomplice to murder and accused of supporting school shootings. Let me state this clearly for the detractors: Any support I receive from the NRA is a result of my voting record and support for the Second Amendment — not the other way around.

Let’s look at the facts. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA contributed just over $1 million to candidates in the 2016 campaign cycle (ranked 489th in organizations contributing to campaigns). Planned Parenthood, for example, spent four times that amount. The NRA is regularly outspent by liberal interest groups in campaigns. Its strength doesn’t come from campaign contributions — its strength comes from its members’ grass-roots support and ideological belief that firearms are essential to their own sense of freedom.

NRA members, and gun owners in general, are people. They are our neighbors, teachers, coaches and Uber drivers. They have children who go to school, and they have the same right as everyone else to organize around their shared interests, just like a union, Planned Parenthood, or immigration advocates. Pennsylvania has the highest per-capita NRA membership in the country. Draw a 300-mile radius around Pittsburgh and you’ll find 1.5 million NRA members, and in our district, you’ll find tens of thousands of law-abiding NRA members.

Saying NRA members support, or are responsible for, the horrific acts of a demented individual is an unproductive, pathetic attempt to deflect the conversation away from solutions and toward political gamesmanship.

Real progress requires tenable solutions. That’s why I support commonsense measures that can help save lives.

Following the shooting in Las Vegas, where a deranged individual used a bump stock to murder 59 and wound hundreds more, I joined with 78 of my House colleagues and sent a bipartisan letter to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, urging it to re-evaluate bump stocks to determine if they violate existing law banning fully automatic weapons. If a device makes a semi-automatic weapon operate like a fully automatic weapon, it should be illegal. I’m glad President Donald Trump is taking action to get rid of bump stocks.

With my support, the House passed the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. This legislation would increase funding for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System  to help ensure our federal background check system works as intended. This is a good start, but the Senate needs to take action on this measure. And after robberies from gun stores in our area, I co-sponsored legislation to enhance penalties for the theft of a firearm from federally licensed firearm stores. A break-in at a firearm store is no ordinary robbery, and it shouldn’t be treated as one.

But in the case of the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, we cannot overlook the fact that our system failed the 17 students who lost their lives. Law enforcement responded to dozens of calls regarding Cruz’s home. Distressed after his mother died, he even called the police himself. Law enforcement was warned multiple times that he was a school shooter in waiting, that he was a threat to himself, and that his guns should be removed from his possession. Yet everyone failed. Everyone ignored the clear signs and hoped the issue would go away. Tragically, it didn’t. A system was in place to stop this from happening — but any system is useless if protocol isn’t followed and action isn’t taken. Many, including me, are searching for solutions as we grieve.

We’ve seen systemic failures compound the devastation of tragedies like this one, and we know evidence-based solutions exist that can help keep our children safe. But getting there takes thoughtful discussion that includes all of us. I am committed to that conversation, and am asking for your continued input, because schools should be havens for students to learn and to dream big.