Here is another response from a Washington Representative in the House. If you are from Washington, please contact your district representative.
Thank you for contacting me about gun safety and potential Congressional action on this issue. I appreciate hearing from you on this important concern.
On Friday, December 14, 2012, twenty children and six school teachers and administrators were killed in a horrific mass shooting at the hands of a mentally ill individual. Unfortunately, this tragedy is not the only one of its kind. This was the third mass shooting including Aurora and Oak Creek in the last year and fifth in the last several years with Virginia Tech and Tucson.
America is facing an epidemic of gun violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Vital Statistics System there were 32,000 deaths in 2011 alone involving firearms, with 11,101 homicides. Since 1982, there have been at least 62 documented mass murders using firearms, which only documents incidents in which at least 4 individuals were killed. Still other instances such as the Washington, D.C. beltway sniper attacks in 2002 took the lives of ten people over three weeks occur far too regularly.
Unfortunately, this is not an easy problem to solve. Primarily, I believe we have a cultural problem that needs to be addressed on every level, including through legislation. We must limit access to firearms, especially those that serve no purpose other than to kill. I am a cosponsor of legislation to ban high capacity magazines and clips. I am looking forward to supporting a stronger, more thorough version of the semiautomatic assault weapons ban. In order to purchase a gun legally, I believe everyone should have to clear a background check. This means addressing the gun show loophole and any person-to-person transfers of firearms.
We must also comprehensively tackle the way we deal with mental health in this country, improving the way we indentify and treat the mentally ill. I am personally concerned both by the lack of treatment and the difficulty authorities have in requiring dangerous individuals to receive treatment. In all of the tragic incidents listed above, after the fact, people came forward to make it clear that the individuals who committed the violent acts were known to be disturbed and dangerous long before they carried out their crimes. I believe that law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges should be given greater power to, at least temporarily, suspend gun rights to disturbed and dangerous people, to take steps to make sure they receive the treatment they need, and, in extreme cases, to civilly commit them until they receive that treatment.
I understand the difficulty of regulating firearms, and am prepared for the long road ahead. Despite some of the strongest laws in the nation in Connecticut, the guns used in Newtown were purchased legally. There are an estimated 270-300 million guns today in the United States, and approximately 40 percent of homes contain a legally owned firearm. Reducing access and availability of firearms may be one avenue that could reduce violence, and I would support a gun buyback program that has seen success in U.S. cities and internationally, such as the program in Australia.
Historically, support for new gun laws has gone down over the last 20 years, despite increased acts of mass murder and gun violence. Any changes in federal law will require strong support and action from the American public. As policy makers and a society, we can and must do more to address this issue, and I look forward to working with all interested parties, including my colleagues here in Congress, to enacting positive change and making our communities safer.
Thank you again for contacting me. If I can be of any help to you or your family in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Member of Congress
- Maria Cantwell United States Senator from Washington Responds
- Jeff Merkley United States Senator from Oregon Responds