A generation of failure on guns: We owe it to the victims of Columbine, Sandy Hook and other massacres to pass sane firearm safety laws - New York Daily News
Apr 18 2019
By Dianne Feinstein
Originally published in the New York Daily News
Images often stay with us in ways that words don’t. At least that was the case when I saw the Daily News front page on March 20, 2013. A series of photos shows each of the 6- and 7-year-old children who were shot to death by a deranged young man wielding an AR-15 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I keep a framed copy hanging in my study at home. Every few weeks I take it down and look at it, at those 20 faces smiling back. And each time I’m left with a deep sadness knowing that none of those faces will ever smile again.
As Saturday’s 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting approaches, those images are a poignant reminder that even though most Republicans in Congress are terrified of the National Rifle Association, the rest of us must continue the fight.
I vividly recall talking with Joe Biden in 1993 about my idea to ban military-style assault weapons, so commonly used in mass shootings. Joe, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told me it was impossible: “Wait until the gunners get ahold of you,” he said.
He was right, to an extent. The NRA was powerful, even 25 years ago. It took months of hard work, and we had to change minds, but we eventually succeeded in banning assault weapons for a decade. We even got Republicans to vote with us.
And during those 10 years, the ban saved lives.
For example, we know that fewer assault weapons were on the street. One study conducted in Boston showed 72% fewer assault weapons recovered by police while the ban was in effect.
A Justice Department study nine years after the ban was enacted found the use of assault weapons in crime had dropped by 70%.
In 2011, the Washington Post found that seizures by Virginia police of firearms with high-capacity magazines dropped by more than half while the ban was in effect, then "rebounded sharply” after it ended in 2004.
One of the most infuriating arguments against common-sense gun safety laws is that because we can’t stop all gun crimes, we should do nothing. That’s absurd. Every life saved is priceless and worth the effort.
There have been too many mass shooting in the United States — in theaters, offices, churches and malls.
I was convinced the Columbine killings would prompt action. They didn’t. And today, we look back on so many other massacres.
Charleston, where a gunman shot and killed parishioners in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Orlando, where a gunman killed 49 people at a nightclub. Las Vegas, where a gunman sprayed bullets on concertgoers as they fled in panic. Pittsburgh, where 11 people were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue. Parkland, where 17 students and educators were shot to death last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
And each time, Republican obstruction prevented any action, even universal background checks that enjoy overwhelming support among Republican voters.
I hold out hope. Student activists who mobilized last year helped inject new enthusiasm into the gun safety movement. Unlike Republican lawmakers, they’re not afraid to take on the NRA.
I also think it’s time we look abroad for lessons. In 1996, a gunman in Australia killed 35 people with two assault rifles. In response, the government banned all semiautomatic rifles and created a licensing system.
And this month, New Zealand banned most semi-automatic weapons just days after 50 worshippers were murdered at two mosques in Christchurch.
There was tragedy. Policymakers knew they had to take action. And they did.
How many more people have to die in the United States before we learn our own lesson?
For my part, I’ll keep looking at that Daily News cover. I’ll use those 20 smiling faces to remind myself that no matter how tough the fight, no matter how deep the NRA digs in, we have to keep at it.
One day we’ll win, and when we do, we’ll save lives.