An Open Letter to Congress on Gun Violence and What to Do About It

Later today, President Obama is expected to unveil a series of steps that the country should take to combat the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. I would like to offer my two cents on the subject by sharing a letter that I wrote for my current representative in the House, Jackie Walorski, and Indiana’s two senators, Joe Donnelly and Dan Coats. I encourage you to do the same with your members of Congress. Feel free to re-use portions of this letter if you don’t have the time to write your own. The important thing is that we mobilize to combat the powerful interest groups that would rather have us do nothing. And now, the letter…

Dear Congresswoman Walorski:

Congratulations on your recent narrow victory and on being sworn in as the representative for the 2nd Congressional District of Indiana. As a 2nd District resident, as a voter and as a citizen of these great United States of America, I am writing on the important issue of gun violence.

Following the recent tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut, where twenty children and six staff members were gunned down in cold blood, the nation has turned to our elected leaders to seek a solution to the carnage taking place on a stunningly frequent basis. Whether it is the mass shooting in Tucson, where Congresswoman Giffords miraculously survived a gunshot to the head, or the horrific mass shooting in Aurora, where a man armed with body armor and an assault rifle brutally murdered twelve and shot fifty-eight others, we are becoming all too accustomed to these tragedies. This nightmare must end.

Our country has a proud tradition of gun ownership dating back to before the America Revolution. However, just as we have adapted our laws to reflect the changing times on other issues, we also must modernize our gun laws to reflect the realities on the ground today, including the vast technological advancements that have taken place since the 1700s. Back then a one-shot musket was no guarantee of a kill even with a precise aim. It would take well over ten seconds to reload just one round even for a well-trained member of the Continental Army.

Today, we find ourselves with weapons that are truly awe-inspiring — and not in a good way. The Bushmaster assault rifle used at Sandy Hook Elementary is capable of firing hundreds of rounds in a minute. It is meant for the battlefields of Afghanistan, not for the hallways of an elementary school. Let us not pretend that military-style weapons should be in the hands of civilians. These are machines of death, not of play or self-defense. The only civilian who truly needs these weapons is someone who means to do a great deal of harm in a fast, efficient manner without regard for life.

Some powerful organizations, who have a vested financial interest in selling these weapons of mass murder, have attempted to sensationalize the issue by claiming that gun safety advocates support taking away all guns and abolishing the Second Amendment as we know it. Conspiracy theorists, with millions of views on YouTube, have even gone to the extent of claiming that Sandy Hook was a hoax designed by the government to take away people’s guns. This could not be further from the truth. We can and should protect the Second Amendment while also coming to the realization that this is not the 1780s. The Founders never intended for us to unleash firepower onto our streets that frankly would be more lethal than even artillery of the time.

Assault weapons and the size of clips are not the only issues at hand. There were over 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. in 2010 of which there were 11,078 murders. We cannot simply turn a blind eye to this fact when other industrialized nations, such as the UK, had fewer than 50. Responsible gun ownership should be a requisite for owning a gun. Why is proper gun training not mandatory? Likewise, one cannot expect a person with a felony to be a responsible gun owner. Felons, criminals and terrorists should never have access to any weapons whatsoever. And while we cannot completely dry up the black market of gun sales to these groups, we can certainly make it more difficult and expensive, saving countless lives in the process.

The only way that we can prevent such transactions from occurring is by instituting universal background checks. Under current law, a person even with a violent felony can purchase any gun of their choosing at a gun show or through a private sale. It is estimated that up to forty percent of gun sales occur through these means. This loophole is simply not acceptable. It puts the lives of our citizens at risk. Closing it should be a top priority of Congress.

Finally, the issue of mental illness has been given scant attention in recent years. I believe that Congress has an obligation to examine America’s mental health system in a serious, thoughtful and thorough fashion. Just walk the streets of some of our biggest cities and you will see how poorly we have neglected to treat mental illness. Many find themselves homeless, including tens of thousands of veterans. Not only will better funding for mental health prevent future gun violence, it will also help individuals with mental illness live more fulfilling lives.

All of the approaches that I have outlined are enormously popular with the American people. According to a Washington Post poll taken on January 10-13, which mirrors other recent polls taken on the subject, 88 percent of Americans support requiring background checks at gun shows; 76 percent support requiring a background check on anyone purchasing ammunition; 71 percent support creating a federal database to track the sale of all guns; 65 percent support banning high-capacity clips; and 58 percent support banning assault weapons. These are all measures that would enhance public safety with wide support from voters, not only protecting the lives of children, but also police officers, firefighters and others who put their lives on the line for us every day.

In conclusion, America needs a comprehensive approach to solving this critical issue. It is incomprehensible to think that we would allow violent criminals to purchase a gun thanks to a lack of universal background checks. It is equally appalling that weapons of mass murder, such as the Bushmaster assault rifle and others like it, are allowed on the streets of Newtown, South Bend or any other city in America. And of course the lack of mental health funding is not only a safety issue, but a moral one as well. To simply throw our hands up and pretend that we cannot solve this issue in a responsible way is ludicrous. We have the solutions right in front of us. I hope that you will support these common sense measures to bring an end to this violent chapter in our country’s history. Smart gun safety laws not only protect our most vulnerable, they protect our rights as responsible citizens.

Sincerely yours,
Kyle W. Bell

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