Op-Ed: We must curb gun violence

April 16, 2017
In The News

This weekend, our nation marks the 10th anniversary of the horrific mass shooting that occurred at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007. That tragedy claimed the lives of 32 people and left 17 others wounded. The effects still resonate, in our commonwealth and the nation. As we take time to remember, mourn and celebrate the lives of the students and faculty members who died, members of Congress must come together to address the epidemic of gun violence so as to make sure tragedies such as the one at Virginia Tech and so many others never happen again.

Schools are meant to be sanctuaries of learning and, most importantly, sanctuaries of safety. Parents who send their children to college with all the potential that a college education represents should be confident that their children will be safe. That is why in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, I introduced the Center to Advance, Monitor, and Preserve University Security (CAMPUS) Safety Act to help train campus public safety personnel, encourage research to strengthen college safety and security, and serve as a clearinghouse for the dissemination of relevant campus public safety information and best practices. It took several years to get the job done but working with former Congressman Frank Wolf, R-Va., and the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the families and survivors of the Virginia Tech tragedy, we were able to secure language in a federal spending bill in 2013 directing the Department of Justice to establish a National Center for Campus Public Safety. This was an important victory, but only one component of the strategy to make sure that tragedies like Virginia Tech are no longer commonplace in our society.

Despite calls for reforms to our nation's gun laws in the immediate aftermath of Virginia Tech, Congress has done little. From Fort Hood, Texas to Aurora, Colo. to Newtown, Conn., to the Washington Navy Yard to Charleston, S. C., to Orlando, Fla., we have borne witness to far too many mass shootings in our nation. But mass shootings are only a small part of a much larger issue. Each year 32,000 die as a result of gun violence, while another 75,000 are injured.

This is a uniquely American problem. There is no other advanced country with comparable rates of gun violence. We have ample data and evidence to enact effective policy solutions that would make our communities safer, but lawmakers choose instead to give individuals nearly unfettered access to firearms.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi established the House Democratic Caucus Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and appointed Congressman Mike Thompson of California as chair. I was appointed as one of several vice chairs. Unfortunately, it was a Democratic caucus taskforce only because no Republican wanted to join. Our task force held several meetings with victims of gun violence; gun safety advocates; gun owners; hunters; outdoor sportsmen; federal, state and local law enforcement officials; educators; community workers; mental health experts; physicians; representatives of the motion picture, television, music and video game industries; faith leaders; and representatives of gun manufacturers and retailers. The result of this monthslong process culminated in set of comprehensive policy principles that would both reduce gun violence and respect our Second Amendment.

Requiring background checks for every firearm sale, strengthening the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, banning military-style assault weapons and large magazines, requiring safe storage, improving our nation's mental health system and investing in evidence-based youth violence prevention initiatives are just some of the reforms that our task force found to be effective measures that Congress could enact.

We know background checks work. Nearly 250 dangerous individuals are prevented from buying a gun every day thanks to the process. Unfortunately, in many states, those same individuals can then go to a local gun show and purchase a gun without any sort of background check.

Reforming our nation's gun laws will not end every instance of gun violence, but it can help make our communities safer. Yet the Republican majority in Congress has chosen to do nothing. Not a single hearing has been held. And even though the American Medical Association now refers to gun violence as a public health crisis, the majority has callously blocked attempts to allow the Centers for Disease Control to conduct research on gun violence.

On the 10th anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, I remind my fellow lawmakers that we have more to offer than just our thoughts and prayers. We have a responsibility and an obligation to our constituents to both support Second Amendment rights and keep our communities safe from gun violence. With sensible reforms to our gun laws, we can fulfill both of these responsibilities. The American people expect no less from their elected officials.

Rep. Scott represents Virginia's 3rd District and is the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.