Less than a week after a gunman entered an Orlando, Florida, nightclub and shot more than 100 people, killing 49, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, along with a contingent of community leaders, activists, and public officials, gathered on Friday morning to demand Congress take immediate “common-sense action” on gun safety in America.
In the half-hour news conference, Norcross and others said they don’t want to see other victims and their families suffer from acts of terror and hate.
Norcross reiterated his support for a bipartisan effort to close a loophole in U.S. law that allows those on the nation’s terror watch list to legally purchase guns. He also called on Congress to pass the assault weapons ban, which would include weapons such as the Sig Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle used in the Pulse Nightclub shooting, as well as those used in the elementary school shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, and the attack on a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, among others.
“These are killing machines,” Norcross said. “They’re used to fight wars. They don’t belong on the streets of America. We know how to stop this and we have the power to stop this. We can’t wait any longer.”
The group gathered at Cooper River Park at the Victims of Terrorism Memorial on North Park Drive.
Collingswood resident Brian McGinnis spoke, representing the LGBT community. He said members of the community are targets of violence on a daily basis across the country.
“Like so many LGBT people across this country, I woke up Sunday morning to learn a shooter had targeted an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida,” he said. “We watched with horror the news reports throughout the day and learned that 49 people had been killed, 53 wounded. It was a punch in the gut. Our hearts are broken for the victims and their families. Make no mistake, this was an attack on the LGBT community.”
Carole Stiller, president of the New Jersey and Mercer County chapters of Million Mom March, was among those calling for change and said the country cannot continue to “sit idly by and bear witness to tragedy after tragedy when we have the ability to save lives.
“We’re long past the point of just talking about it. We need to take immediate and meaningful action on gun legislation.”
Voorhees resident Morshad Hossain was on hand to lend his support and expressed gratitude to Norcross for giving him the opportunity to talk on Friday morning.
“Speaking on behalf of the Muslim community, I’d like to let all my fellow Americans know that we are here to support and stand with victims of Orlando and the victims of anyone who has been oppressed or treated unjustly,” he said. “The Muslims living in this country will tell you that we are proud Americans, we love this country and we are willing to lay down our lives for what this country stands for.”
Norcross said common-sense things that can be done include banning assault rifles, stopping suspected terrorists from buying weapons, strengthening background checks, prosecuting gun trafficking and investing in smart gun technology.
A report from the Government Accountability Office says at least 2,043 known and suspected terrorists in the United States have legally purchased firearms between 2004 and 2014.
On Wednesday in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, Democrats took control of the Senate floor demanding reform to current gun laws.
They were led by senators representing Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman fatally shot 26 people, including 20 children in 2012. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., launched a filibuster that lasted 15 hours.
It ended early Thursday morning when Senate leaders agreed to votes on two measures to close gun-buying loopholes. One is an amendment that would bar people who are on terrorist watch lists from buying guns, another would crack down on online and private gun sales that evade background checks. The votes could take place early next week.
“This is a different moment today than it was at the end of last week,” Murphy said.
While Orlando gunman Omar Mateen, reportedly an ISIS sympathizer, wasn’t technically on a watch list, he had been investigated on at least two occasions by the FBI. However, he was able to purchase the MCX rifle as well as a Glock 17 pistol from a Florida gun shop.
“It’s outrageous and inexcusable that anyone suspected or that has possible ties to terrorist organizations can still legally purchase guns in this country," Norcross said. "If you’re on the ‘do not fly list,’ our policy should be simple. Just four words: ‘No fly, no buy.’”
Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson also gave his support. Camden is one of the most dangerous and violent cities in America, and Thomson said assault-style weapons being out on the streets makes their jobs tougher.
“It creates an extreme public safety challenge for our officers who are on the street often responding to the incidents being outgunned, outarmed and many times outresourced,” Thomson said.
Said Norcross: “Doing nothing is not an option. Bottom line.”