Sustained Outrage

West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller this morning issued a new statement about the ongoing congressional debate over gun safety, saying:

Four months ago, our country was shaken to its core when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, killing twenty small children and six people who worked there. We wept. We felt the gut-wrenching pain of those families and that community. And we rightly began talking about how we, as a nation, can keep such horror from ever happening again.

Parents, educators, police officers, hunters and sportsmen, and elected leaders have worked hard to find common ground and come up with new solutions to solve the very real problem of gun violence in this country. And they’ve stuck with it even in the face of some unfair and ugly criticisms by those who would instead turn this moment into a false rallying cry over gun rights that are not threatened in any way, shape or form. From the NRA to the halls of Congress and state capitols, we’ve seen some turn a blind eye to the tragedy of Newtown or, worse yet, use it as an excuse to create panic and undo longstanding public safety laws.

Sen. Rockefeller’s statement comes just as President Obama takes his push for stronger gun safety laws to Connecticut, for a speech just 50 miles north of the site where 20 children and six educators were murdered last year. And as the Senate returns from a two-week break today, lawmakers prepare to take up the gun safety issue. Many observers say that a renewed ban on assault weapons is dead, but that a deal on universal background checks might be possible. Sen. Rockefeller said:

In 1994, I supported the law that banned new purchases of a limited number of assault weapons and high capacity magazines. No one had to give up the guns they owned and thousands of rifles were exempt. That law made sense then and in my view should be reenacted now, but we also have the opportunity today to tackle other important aspects of gun violence – expanding mental health support services, studying violent media content, addressing gun trafficking, and closing the big loopholes that exist today in the background check process.

The background checks in particular are something we need to push ourselves to reach agreement on. We know beyond any doubt that right now in America there are too many ways for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns, especially at gun shows – and we know how to fix it. This does not mean gun owners would be placed on a registry. What it does mean is that those who want to do people harm shouldn’t be allowed to avoid background checks by going to gun shows. Period. And we all have a shared responsibility to just put an end to that.

The grief from four months ago shouldn’t go away. It should be the rallying cry that drives us to make fair and meaningful progress toward gun safety. We can protect responsible gun owners while keeping firearms out of dangerous hands – and better protecting our children, law enforcement officers and all innocent Americans.