Thoughts and prayers aren’t cutting it

Congress must acknowledge the bloodshed is tied to accessibility and reinstate federal assault weapons ban

The author, a Democrat, represents California’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Colusa, Sutter and Yuba counties and parts of Glenn, Lake, Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties.

On Jan. 19, 1989, my wife, Patti, and I entered the ICU at San Joaquin General Hospital. We were there to see a 5-year-old boy and his parents, who recently fled from war-torn Laos. The boy was fighting for his life. A day earlier, a gunman walked onto the playground of a Stockton elementary school with an AK-47 and started shooting, injuring the boy and killing five of his classmates.

“We came here to escape war,” his parents pleaded. “How could this happen in America?”

Thirty years later, we’re waking up to news of two mass shootings within 24 hours—three in eight days—and more than 30 lives cut short. We made progress on this issue over the years, but recently the National Rifle Association and other special interests have succeeded in eroding fundamental gun safety policies that keep Americans safe.

I represented Stockton in the state Senate back in 1989. After hearing from first responders and victims, I introduced legislation that would become California’s assault weapons ban—the first of its kind in the nation. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein took up the case in Washington, and in 1994 Congress passed and President Clinton signed the federal assault weapons ban into law. Unfortunately, it expired in 2004.

During the federal assault weapons ban, gun homicide rates declined 49 percent. Sadly, mass shootings and gun homicides have become more frequent and deadly since the ban expired. There have been more mass shootings in the last two years than the decade under the federal ban.

It’s time for congressional leaders to do more than offer thoughts and prayers after each tragedy—they must reinstate the federal assault weapons ban. We also must institute a universal background check system and increase investments into gun violence research. The House voted this year to advance each of these priorities, but they are currently being stalled by Republican leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate.

President Trump has condemned the recent shootings and blamed the El Paso shooting on the rise of white nationalism and a lack of mental health services. Sadly, the president’s actions do not match his words. His recent budget proposal called for a 16 percent cut to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The NRA and its allies in Congress seem to believe anything except widespread access to assault weapons is to blame for the rise in mass shootings. They cannot be more wrong. I will spend my time in Congress advancing common-sense gun safety reforms to ensure we have fewer assault weapons on our streets, better background checks and robust mental health funding. Because I never want to see a family hunched over a hospital bed again wondering how this terror and carnage can continue in their country.