In 1994, as a member of the Florida legislature, I filed a bill that would have banned AR-15s and other military-style weapons from purchase in the state of Florida. The bill passed one committee with great debate and interest until the National Rifle Association attacked it with the same political intimidation and flawed mythical arguments it continues to use today.
Twenty-four years and thousands of gun deaths later, 17 teachers and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, were mercilessly shot to death by one of their former classmates. This tragic shooting has shattered the lives of their families, friends and communities. The killer carried a legally purchased AR-15 — a rifle designed for warfare — and multiple magazines.
Last Wednesday’s shooting was no isolated event. We are all too familiar with the names of places where similar massacres were perpetrated. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Marshall County: murder of children in classrooms has become a common occurrence in this country. And that’s not to mention other horrific mass shootings, involving high-powered military-style weapons, that have occurred in Las Vegas, Orlando, Aurora and elsewhere.
Of course, our prayers are with the victims and their families. We respect their grief. But they — and we — are angry and tired of state and national elected officials “offering our thoughts and prayers” as the only response to these dreadful acts and threats to our children and communities.
It is immoral and unconscionable that Republicans and their leaders in Congress and the state legislatures have continually scuttled commonsense gun reform, as this epidemic of violence rages. They, including President Trump, continue to try to change the subject and blame anything but guns, as we lurch from one mass shooting to the next.
It is as if the sanctity of the preservation of every type of gun imaginable is more important than individual safety and the security of children and families. The Second Amendment does not grant absolute license to own and use deadly weapons of any sort in any place. You can’t own a bazooka or Stinger missile. We are on high alert, and spend billions of dollars protecting our country internally from foreign terrorist threats, yet we cannot have a rational discussion about how to reduce gun violence that results in the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans every year.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” said Albert Einstein. Failing to seriously consider, or even discuss, serious legislation to reduce gun violence year after year, and then ending up with continued violent attacks, is just that kind of insanity.
As long as our elected officials put the interests of the NRA and the gun lobby before those of the American people, tragedies such as these will repeat themselves, placing all of us at risk of mortal danger.
Citizens must demand that Congress and our state lawmakers open “real” debate on gun control, and pass laws that will protect Americans from death by firearms. There is no simple or single answer, but rather a combination of things we need to do. We need universal background checks; bans on military-style weapons and accessories that are designed to kill large numbers of people; limits on the purchase of massive quantities of bullets and magazines; an end to online gun sales; and, yes, a far more robust response to mental health care.
No more division, deflection or excuses. The issues have been studied and the answers are well known. Elected officials either need to get on board with constructive action, or be voted out of office.
Ron Klein, a former member of Congress (D-Fla.), is the chair of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. He previously served in the Florida House and Senate.