By State Rep. (D)Stacey Newman pictured with Al Sharpton.
A flurry of bills have been recently filed in Missouri – to “take guns away”, to declare federal gun laws unenforceable and even one to make it a felony for legislators to file gun safety bills.
The widespread attention to these bills has detracted from the focus on rising gun violence fatalities and common sense solutions. Unnecessary drama over who can file the most comedic or outrageous legislation has resulted in our state legislature forgetting their utmost responsibility: saving lives.
Other states are stepping up to the task. In contrast, Colorado, New Jersey and New York state legislatures are passing comprehensive gun control packages designed to actually save lives. Limits on ammunition magazines and universal background checks for all gun sales passed the Colorado House just last week. The New Jersey State Assembly approved 22 bills including limiting ammunition sales and tightening gun permits. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York signed a gun control package, including an expanded assault weapons ban, just one month after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Minnesota, Connecticut, Washington, Illinois, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania are also considering similar proposals.
Last month I filed HB187 which would require background checks for all gun sales. Currently only sales through licensed dealers (60% of all gun sales) require federal background checks. The remainder – 40% of sales are through unlicensed dealers who sell via the internet and at gun shows without conducting background checks of their buyers. This gaping hole is taken advantage of by criminals, gun traffickers and those who know they cannot legally pass a background check to buy a gun. HB187 is almost identical to legislation filed in other states and the initiative being promoted by the White House.
Over 90% of gun owners and 75% of NRA members support a stronger background check system as does law enforcement officials and the majority of Americans. The only people who don’t want these checks are criminals and elected officials backed by NRA lobbyists. Background checks are a fast and proven way to save lives and protect law-abiding gun owners from being blamed for other’s gun crimes. States with universal background checks have lower gun death rates, including murders associated with domestic violence and suicides and also lower the gun trafficking rate in half. They take only about 90 seconds but have stopped over 2 million gun sales to dangerous people, like convicted felons.
Poll after poll consistently confirm public support for closing this loophole. Nearly 90% of rank-and-file NRA members agree that support for Second Amendment rights go hand in-hand with keeping guns away from criminals and those who should not have them.
I’m not naive about Missouri’s attitude towards measures recommended to prevent further gun deaths. I began this fight 13 years ago as a Million Mom Marcher and lobbied hard for several years against Missouri’s concealed weapons law. Our country has changed since 2000 as mass shootings have skyrocketed and become common place.
Yet suddenly losing 20 first graders to a semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle is more than we can bear.
As a mother and grandmother, I’m adding my voice to the new “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense”, a non-profit founded the day after the Sandy Hook shooting by Shannon Watts, an Indiana mother of five (coincidentally, a University of Missouri alumni). As a legislator, I’m advocating common sense legislation in a state capitol where common sense is not popular.
I challenge my legislative colleagues to weigh the priceless value of life against a two-minute wait of a criminal background check. I challenge them to step up to the task. As mothers throughout the country along with the White House demand, “Now is the Time”. Not for nonsense, not for comedy, not for headlines but to save lives.
Rep. Newman is a Democrat who represents the 87th District.