Four months ago, a madman opened fire in a crowded Orlando nightclub, slaughtering 49 innocent people. In August, in my hometown of Camden, 8-year-old Gabrielle Hill-Carter was struck and killed near her home by a stray bullet, another tragic victim of the drug trade-fueled violence that plagues so many of America’s cities. And just a few weeks ago, five people were shot and killed by a deranged man as they shopped in a mall outside Seattle.
These are just a few of the latest examples of America’s ongoing gun-violence epidemic. Whether they are motivated by religious extremism and intolerance, gang-related or the result of deep mental illness, we can all agree that it’s much too common for any of us to accept. And just as surely, we can all say that Congress has done absolutely nothing to help stop it.
Recently I welcomed the great American civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis to Camden, where we met with families of local victims of gun violence and continued our call for action. Lewis knows something about taking principled stands against injustice. He stood alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as they held sit-ins and marched for equality during the civil rights movement.
Now, 50 years later, we are all faced with a different, deadly injustice that’s striking our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces with alarming frequency.
So in June, Lewis led his fellow members of Congress, including me, to “stand up by sitting down” as we held a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives. We sat in protest of the Republican "leadership" in Congress and their outrageous, morally reprehensible lack of action on any gun-safety measures in the face of this epidemic.
Here we are months after that historic event, and still, no votes have been held, no proposals debated, not one action taken that would help prevent any of the senseless killings we continue to see. But we cannot become discouraged, we must keep fighting. The vast majority of Americans, including most responsible gun owners and National Rifle Association members themselves, agree with the need for common-sense gun safety measures.
What does common-sense gun safety mean? First, "No-Fly, No-Buy." Let’s stop allowing people on the nation’s no-fly list from purchasing firearms. Over the past decade, more than 2,000 of these individuals who we have deemed too risky to board an airplane have nonetheless legally bought weapons of war like the automatic rifles used in the Orlando massacre. That’s ridiculous. Let’s fix it.
Next, let’s pass universal background checks for any person buying a firearm, including people with a history of mental health issues. The "gun show loophole," as it has been called, allows thousands of guns to be bought with no background check or accountability. Often these guns are bought in Pennsylvania and Virginia and end up sold to criminals for use on the streets of New Jersey. We need national standards to stop this deadly gun trafficking.
I also support more research and investment in smart gun technology. Thumbprint readers are becoming commonplace on our smartphones. If online retailers can use it to verify your identity, then I am certain we can develop technology that would ensure firearms can only be used by their lawful owners.
These are the smart, simple actions we deserve to address gun safety. Instead, Congress will likely continue its practice of observing mass shootings with just a moment of silence over future mass shootings and get on with its regular business of trying to deny rights to women, minorities and the LGBT community, rather than denying guns to criminals and terrorists. If that makes you angry, well, so am I. Join me and John Lewis and let’s demand the right to gun safety.