Guest Opinion

Once again, political cowardice in the face of mass murders

Forty-nine murdered in Orlando, 32 murdered at Virginia Tech, 26 murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 14 murdered in San Bernardino, 9 murdered in Charleston and 6 murdered in Tucson.

What has been the response from Congress to these mass murders? Moments of silence, floor speeches, thoughts and prayers all come in their turn but beyond that, no action has been taken. Let's call this what it is: Political cowardice in the face of opposition from the gun lobby.

Hundreds more people were killed or wounded physically and emotionally in these and other mass shootings over the last 10 years in America. More than 32,000 people die from gunshots every year in our nation. Every time another mass shooting takes place, our elected officials run to their respective political corners and nothing gets done to prevent more gun violence. Too many of them are intimidated by the blunt force tactics of the gun lobby.

As a survivor of the Tucson shooting, I understand that behind all of these numbers are real human beings, their families and friends. I know the grief and the numbness that follows the notification that your loved one is either dead or in the hospital recovering from their wounds. Lives are changed forever and dreams are destroyed for the living as well as the dead.

We know that communities respond in unity with compassion, love and support but the pain lasts and the questions remain unanswered. Why did this happen and what are we going to do to prevent another tragedy?

We turn to those we have elected for answers but the same political theater plays out once again and we move on waiting for the next horrific shooting.

We look into the shooter's background and try to find out why anyone would commit such a savage act. The motives are many but there is one thing most of these tragedies have in common: a killer with a weapon that has magazines filled with as many as 30 or even 100 bullets ensuring the maximum amount of damage in the shortest amount of time. It is also true that many of the shooters have serious mental health issues that may have contributed to their decision to murder and maim.

Hate is a major force behind mass shootings. This is certainly true in the horror that descended on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It appears that the shooter chose that location because he hated people in the LGBTQ community. We must not forget that this community has faced discrimination, persecution, and murder over many decades in America. But it is a community of strong people, of activists, of national and local leaders who are pushing our country toward social justice for everyone.

What must we do to prevent more gun violence? First and foremost, we must stand with the victims, the survivors and their families.

After Orlando, it is particularly important that we stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTQ community, which is dealing with unspeakable loss and shock. While we have made some progress in advancing equality for LGBTQ Americans, we have much more work to do. The hateful homophobic rhetoric that was sent out this week on social media reminds us that there are still people, including so-called faith leaders, who have condemned the victims and not the perpertrator. There have also been too many highly placed elected officials who chose not to describe the victims as LGBTQ Americans. We need to call this out for what it is, bigotry.

Bold action is needed from the U.S. House and Senate. And there will be an opportunity in the days ahead to pass legislation that could begin to make a difference. The gun lobby is busy reminding members of Congress what will happen to them if they pass these bills.

I am not optimistic that the Senate will take action to increase the safety of Americans in places of worship, schools, theaters and clubs where people gather for friendship and fun. The chances are even less likely that the U.S. House will step up to its responsibilities.

This work should be a bipartisan effort but, sadly, it is not. A few courageous Republicans are willing to support commonsense legislation but for the most part the Republican Party does the bidding of the gun lobby.

But our fight goes on where ever we cast our votes. In this campaign season, we must hold candidates accountable and press them to take positions in support of legislation that could make a difference.

So what do we want?

The vast majority of Americans want comprehensive background checks, they want a ban on assault weapons and large magazines and they want to make sure that people on the terrorist watch or no-fly list cannot purchase a weapon. These are commonsense actions that would go a long way to reducing gun violence in our country.

Americans understand that we have to address the need for more readily accessible mental health services so that people can be identified, diagnosed and treated before they commit an act of violence. That said, we cannot fall into the trap that has been set by the gun lobby.

They say we don't need to further restrict access to guns by people who under current law are prohibited from possessing a gun. They simplistically put it down to a mental health problem. It is not! Less than 5 percent of people living with mental illness ever commit an act of violence. They need services as early as possible but this cannot substitute for action to ensure that people who purchase a weapon on the Internet or at a gun show go through a background check.

Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords addressed the U.S. Senate in 2013 and the words she spoke then are even more pertinent today. She said: "It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you."

To Congress I say: Are you listening?

Ron Barber represented Arizona's Congressional District 2 in Congress from 2012 to 2014.

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