There are lots of reasons for people to get off of the sidelines and commit themselves to new and sustained action and activism in the aftermath of the gun violence horror in Las Vegas.
The mass shooting was an assault on the nation’s physical and emotional wellbeing and, at times like this, it’s critical that we pull together—to mourn, to pray and, ultimately, to heal some of the grievous communal wounds that such terror inflicts. Recently, North Carolinians Against Gun Violence took a small step in this direction by helping to convene a joint service with the United Church of Chapel Hill to mourn for those that lost their lives in the shooting. It was a powerful event for those in attendance and will, hopefully, spur other similar expressions of love, peace and healing during these violent and troubled times.
Ultimately, however, as welcome and important as activism of this kind is, there is another and even more important reason for the millions horrified by this most recent mass shooting to act: to protect American freedom and liberty.
Yes, you read that correctly.
While the gun industry and its vast network of paid apologists love to cast their promotion of unfettered gun rights as somehow constituting a defense of freedom and liberty, the opposite is actually the case.
After all, which poses a greater threat to our nation’s freedom and liberty: the fear that now regularly grips tens of millions of Americans as they contemplate the risk of violence every time they enter a concert, sports arena or theater or the requirement that a small percentage of our citizens (gun owners and would be gun owners) endure the kind of limitations everyone endures when obtaining a driver’s license and/or registering an automobile?
We now know the Las Vegas shooter used bump stocks, which effectively allow semi-automatic weapons to fire as quickly as automatic weapons. There simply no reason for these items to be lawful. Congress should ban the manufacturing of bump stocks, ban the transfer of bump stocks in current circulation from one person to another, and require bump stocks that are already in circulation to be registered to their current owner under the National Firearms Act.
Of course, banning or heavily regulating bump stocks is an important first step, but it barely scratches the surface of what’s needed to address our gun violence epidemic. Congress must also ban military-style assault weapons, require gun stores to report multiple sales of all firearms to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and increase the agency’s funding to deal with the surge in weapons applications.
We also need a universal background check system. Since its creation, the current partial background check system has stopped more than 2.8 million gun sales to dangerous individuals. Right now, because of a glaring loophole in law, people can buy semi-automatic weapons or other firearms online or at a gun show with no questions asked. Universal background checks close that loophole. And 94 percent of Americans support universal background checks.
North Carolina, through the sheriff’s permitting system, is one of only 19 states to require a background check on all handgun acquisitions, no matter where they occur. Yet despite this important and effective safeguard, legislation was introduced again this year in our General Assembly that would effectively eliminate this common sense requirement.
In Washington, the gun industry has actually been pushing to deregulate gun silencers. Law enforcement in Las Vegas identified the shooter’s location by seeing flashes from the muzzle of the guns. If the shooter had used a silencer, they would likely not have seen the flashes.
With each of these policy debates, the rights of drivers and automobile owners provide a fitting analogy. Americans rightfully love their cars and the freedom they provide. But we also recognize that such freedom is greatly reduced where common sense rules are absent. Drivers must prove that they are physically and mentally capable and abide by the rules of the road. Cars must meet basic safety standards. Excessive speeding is illegal because it puts people at risk.
Of course, just as North Carolina’s ban on driving NASCAR racers on city streets doesn’t make all streets safe, no single gun law is likely to prevent the next mass shooting. But we can and must take reasonable steps to strengthen our freedom and liberty by enacting common sense regulations on weapons. This will reduce the number and severity of mass shooting as well as other gun-related deaths.
The bottom line: This is not about “confiscating guns.” We are not embarking upon some slippery slope toward gun prohibition as the gun lobby alarmists will claim. It’s not about taking away the constitutional right to bear arms. It’s about respecting freedom and liberty for all by asking those who desire to own guns to fulfill their civic duty and recognize that both citizenship and gun ownership come with responsibility.
Becky Ceartas is the Executive Director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence.