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Rep. Richard Neal: Ten proposals to address gun violence in America

March 12, 2018
In The News

SPRINGFIELD — In the wake of the most recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla., students across the country are rising up to bring attention to school safety and gun control. In an age where social media drives the news cycle, this generation of activists is extremely well positioned to have their voices heard and influence policy.

After hundreds of students from Pittsfield High School and Taconic High School walked out of their classrooms on Tuesday, Feb. 27, I contacted school administrators and asked if I could meet with the leaders and organizers to thank the students for their activism, hear their concerns, share my views and collaborate on initiatives that I could bring back to my colleagues in Washington. 

I was tremendously impressed with the students when I sat down with them on Monday, March 5. They came well-prepared with questions and our conversation was ride-ranging: we covered spotting red flags, mental illness, assault weapons ban, and raising the purchase age. 

While I have always supported rights of hunters, sportsmen, and gun collectors to bear arms under the Second Amendment, I believe there are 10 sensible proposals that Democrats and Republicans should consider to prevent future mass shootings. The following is a list of common sense measures I spoke about to Pittsfield and Taconic high school students and I am proud to share them with you. 

1. Federal Assault Weapons Ban — Assault weapons should only be found on battlefields, not in our neighborhoods. I was proud to support the 1994 assault weapons ban and urge my colleagues to join me in supporting another assault weapons ban. 

2. Bump Stock Ban — Bump stocks, which is what the mass murderer used in last year's Las Vegas mass shooting, are for those individuals looking to do harm and must be banned.

3. Universal Background Checks — A universal background check law would ensure that people prohibited from purchasing firearms cannot do so through an unregulated sale from an unlicensed or online seller or at a gun show. Closing this background check loophole is critical to making sure criminals and other dangerous people do not have access to firearms. It is also a policy supported by 95 percent of Americans.

4. Domestic Abusers Should Not Have Access To Guns — Expand firearm prohibitions for domestic abusers to include dating partner abusers and convicted stalkers.

5. No Fly, No Buy — If an individual cannot get on a plane because of their status on the "No Fly List," then he or she should not be able to purchase a gun.

Fund gun violence research

6. Allow The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) To Fund Gun Violence Research — In order to effectively solve this public health crisis, our country must begin to fully understand it. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting funding that allows the CDC to fund gun violence research. This research is critical for policymakers to understand and recommend effective solutions for making schools and communities safer.

7. Mental Health Background Checks — For nearly 50 years, federal law has made it unlawful to provide firearms to people who have been ordered to undergo involuntary psychiatric treatment or have been ruled by a court to be a danger to self or others or unable to handle their own affairs due to severe mental illness. Federal law cannot require states to share records about prohibited individuals with the FBI's background check system and many states fail to responsibly do so. This policy must be changed so federal law enforcement has access to mental health records.

8. Do Not Arm School Teachers — A recent Quinnipiac Poll found that while 75 percent of individuals believe that Congress must do more to reduce gun violence, only 20 percent think giving educators guns is the answer. Our teachers need more funding for educational materials, curriculum support and school supplies to help our children and grandchildren succeed. 

9. Impose Minimum Age Requirement To Buy Guns — The minimum age of 21 for dealers to sell handguns and state waiting period laws should apply to assault weapons as well.

10. Pass The Bipartisan Thompson-King Public Safety And Second Amendment Rights Protection Act — This bill would give states resources to help them submit information to the background checks system. It would also expand the system to cover all commercial firearm sales, closing fun show, internet, and classified ad loopholes. It currently has over 200 Democratic and Republican co-sponsors, and I am proud to be one. 

These 10 policy initiatives are a starting point to solving our country's gun violence crisis and I am committed to advocating for all of them.

As a father and a grandfather, I don't think parents should have to worry about the safety of their children when they drop them off at school in the morning. I am grateful to students everywhere for their engagement and input, and I am hopeful that their activism results in substantive change to make us all safer. Their voices are the ones that will drive the national agenda and turn outrage into meaningful public policy for us all. 

Richard Neal is a Democratic congressman representing the 1st Congressional District of Massachusetts.