By Congressman Elijah Cummings
People in El Paso go shopping on a weekend and become the victims of yet another mass shooting. Others go out for a pleasant evening in Dayton, and lose their lives bleeding on the ground.
Caught in a torrent of hate-filled political rhetoric and deadly weapons, Americans are more than justified in their fears – and in their anger with those in government whom they elected to protect them.
The American People are begging the Congress and President for more than thoughts and prayers. Our nation wants – and deserves – a far more effective response from their government.
Just as we must redouble our efforts to reduce the violence in places like my hometown of Baltimore, we cannot forget the sense of loss and personal devastation that we are feeling for the 31 dead and dozens more of our countrymen and women wounded in this most recent mass violence.
The trauma of these horrors reawakens how vulnerable and angry we felt after Virginia Tech (32 dead). We can no longer brush aside the primitive brutality of Binghamton, N.Y. (14 dead), or Aurora, Colo. (12 dead), or Sandy Hook (the lives of 27 children and teachers methodically destroyed).
We must act. Our national conscience and sense of security cannot withstand any more breaking headlines – any more of the mass killings in San Bernardino, Calif., (14 killed), Orlando, Fla., (49 massacred), Las Vegas, Nev., (58 killed and 546 injured), a Charleston church (9 dead and 5 wounded), or a Parkland, Fla. school (17 dead).
There is insufficient room in this space to adequately remember all of the casualties from gun violence that our nation has endured – and, to be certain, some of these mass shootings qualify under our laws as hate crimes, and some do not.
What they all had in common, however, is that they have occurred in a society where some are using the power of mass communications to stoke hatred; some are failing to do all that they can to limit access to deadly weapons; and some are culpable on both counts.
Those leaders who, today, are stoking hatred and division in our country for political advantage are unlikely to be moved by our words of condemnation. However, they should know this.
We have seen hatred and division employed in the past by Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler and others, so we know the dangers that we now face all too well.
Even beyond the question of their moral culpability for so many Americans sacrificed to politics and prejudice, there is the broader issue of whether our elected representatives (and President) are doing all that can be done to deprive potential killers of their weapons of choice.
On Feb. 27, I joined with 239 of my House colleagues (including Maryland’s 6 other Democratic Representatives) to pass and send to the Senate H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, legislation that would close a glaring loophole in our federal efforts to limit dangerous people from having access to firearms.
Five Republican Representatives (Peter King of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Brian Mast of Florida, Fred Upton of Michigan, and Christopher Smith of New Jersey) joined us among the 232 co-sponsors for this legislation, earning a “Profile in Courage” for that act.
I publicly commend these Republican House colleagues because not a single Republican Senator has joined Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut in sponsoring S. 42, the companion bill to our reforms. Only 40 Democrats, including Senators Cardin and Van Hollen of Maryland, and one Independent have acted to put the safety of the American People first.
President Trump has publicly declared that strengthened background check legislation would be an important step toward making us safer, but neither the President nor Senate Majority Leader McConnell have yet taken any action other than to block a Senate vote on our background check bill.
It appears, therefore, that absent a change in their perspective, we will continue to be more vulnerable to hatred, violence and murder than we should until after the 2020 elections – unless the American People come together and demand action now.
This is precisely what concerned citizens are doing. Here in Baltimore, the Maryland Chapter of Moms Demand Action will hold a rally on Saturday, Aug. 17 from 4:15 – 5:30 pm at the War Memorial Plaza downtown to demand that the Senate bring up and pass our background check bill now.
We can understand the pressure that more moderate Republican senators are feeling from their radical right wing, but when Americans are dying, it’s time for some political courage.
It’s time for them to do their duty now.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Afro-American Newspapers.