Op-ed Harrisburg Patriot-News
Once again, our nation mourns the loss of lives in a mass shooting. This time, the horror is magnified, as 20 young children are among the victims.
Questions abound: How could someone hate this much? What could we have done to prevent this? How have we let the gun violence problem reach this abysmal point?
And, most importantly, who will step up to lead the way to meaningful change?
Pennsylvanians, and indeed all Americans, are craving such leadership.
President Obama seems to have accepted that challenge.
In his heartfelt address in Newtown, Conn., he raised difficult questions, seemingly ashamed that — as he put it — this is the fourth time during his presidency he has come to offer words of condolence to the families who lost loved ones in a mass shooting. He asked: “This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
“And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm?
“I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.”
On Dec. 19, President Obama announced that Vice President Joe Biden would lead the effort to develop new policies to combat gun violence. Many things seem to be on the table, including new legislative priorities such as assault weapons bans, bans on high-capacity magazines and expanding background checks to cover all firearms sales.
President Obama has demonstrated leadership. He has not only heard the outcry from the public, but he personally has realized that it is time for action. An eager nation is counting on him to lead.
Contrast that with Gov. Tom Corbett, who, taking a page from the National Rifle Association playbook, declared “[W]e’re not going to get into that discussion right now. … I think we owe that to those children and we’re going to take some time.”
Gov. Corbett wrongly believes that our silence honors the victims and survivors. The answer is not silence, but action.
Moreover, Gov. Corbett, sounding like a broken record, repeated the old NRA cliche “we should enforce the laws we have rather than pass new ones.”
But he has failed, as attorney general and as governor, to ensure Pennsylvania’s compliance with the national background check system. Certain types of people are prohibited from buying or owning guns including felons, illegal drug or alcohol abusers and people who have been adjudicated mentally ill.
The only way to know if one of these “prohibited purchasers” tries to buy a gun, is by searching the background check system.
Pennsylvania is a “point of contact” state, which means we use our own state background check system, besides the federal background check system.
The Pennsylvania Instant Criminal Background Check System includes more than 500,000 mental health records that could prevent a dangerous person from purchasing a firearm. But the National Instant Criminal Background Check System includes only one such record from Pennsylvania, according to a report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Under regulations enacted after the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, states should be sharing their background records with the federal system.
Five years have passed, and Pennsylvania is still one of least cooperative states in terms of efforts to create a comprehensive national database of prohibited purchasers, according to the Mayors Against Illegal Guns report.
Gov. Corbett has the power to determine what the problem is and demand that the state police comply fully with the requirements of the federal system. Pennsylvanians are left wondering what Gov. Corbett intends to do to protect our communities and reduce gun violence.
Pennsylvanians are demanding real leadership and meaningful action from our elected officials.
We want leaders who will act to implement common-sense regulations, including requiring gun owners to report if their firearms are lost or stolen, having background checks for every sale of gun or ammunition, ensuring that Pennsylvania sends all relevant data to the national background check system, guaranteeing that Pennsylvania’s standards govern who will receive a concealed carry permit and banning the sale and possession of certain assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Pennsylvanians are ready to take a stand against gun violence. We need our leaders to stand with us.
Shira Goodman is executive director of CeaseFire PA.