Congress must ban assault weapons, Trump should stop hateful words
By John Garamendi
On Jan. 19, 1989, my wife Patti and I entered the ICU at San Joaquin General Hospital. We were there to see a five-year-old boy and his parents, who recently fled from war-torn Laos. The boy was fighting for his life. A day earlier, a gunman walked onto the playground at Cleveland Park Elementary School in Stockton with an AK-47 and started shooting, injuring the boy and killing five of his classmates.
“We came here to escape war,” his parents pleaded. “How could this happen in America?”
Thirty years later, we’re waking up to news of two mass shootings within 24 hours—three in eight days—and more than 30 lives cut short. We made progress on this issue over the years, but recently the National Rifle Association and other special interests have succeeded in eroding fundamental gun safety policies that keep Americans safe.
I represented Stockton in the California Senate during the Cleveland Park Elementary shooting. After hearing from first responders and victims, I introduced legislation that would become California’s assault weapons ban—the first of its kind in the nation. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein bravely took up the case in Washington, and in 1994 Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the federal assault weapons ban into law. Unfortunately, the federal ban expired in 2004, and Americans could once again purchase these weapons of war.
During the federal assault weapons ban, gun homicide rates declined 49%. Sadly, mass shootings and gun homicides have become more frequent and deadly since the ban expired. There have been more mass shootings in the last two years than the 10 years under the federal assault weapons ban.
It’s time for Congress to do more than offer thoughts and prayers after each tragedy and reinstate the federal assault weapons ban. We also must institute a universal background check system and increase investments into gun violence research. The House voted this year to advance each of these priorities, but they are currently being stalled by Republican leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate. We must all call upon McConnell and the Senate to do the right thing and hold a vote on these crucial pieces of legislation to combat the gun violence epidemic in our country.
President Trump has condemned the recent shootings and blamed the El Paso shooting on the rise in white nationalism and a lack of mental health services. Sadly, the president’s actions do not match his words.
The president’s recent budget proposal called for a 16% cut to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. According to police data analyzed by the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, hate crimes in 30 of America’s largest cities rose 9% in 2018 to 2,009—the most this decade. This is no coincidence. As elected officials, we have a responsibility to choose our words carefully and understand that the language we use can have great impact. We have a duty to name these acts carried out by white extremists for what they are—acts of domestic terrorism.
The gun violence epidemic cannot be tolerated, and it cannot be normalized. The NRA and its allies in Congress seem to believe anything except widespread access to assault weapons is to blame for the rise in mass shootings. They cannot be more wrong. I will spend my time in Congress advancing common-sense gun safety reforms to ensure we have fewer assault weapons on our streets, better background checks and robust mental health funding. Because I never want to see a family hunched over a hospital bed again wondering how this terror and carnage can continue in their country.