Monday, January 28, 2013

Congressman Denny Heck Washington 10th Congressional District Responds

We have a lot of responses from Washington State, but plenty more to go. The latest is from the 10th Congressional District with a message from Congressman Denny Heck. 


Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I deeply appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts with me as I work to represent all the residents of our Congressional District. I hope that even if we do not always agree, we can continue having a civil, reasonable and thoughtful conversation on how we can confront the challenges our nation faces.

Many different proposals for reducing gun violence have been made in the past few weeks, including by President Obama. I am carefully reviewing the President's proposal, which has not yet been written into legislation, as well as the many other proposals that have been made by advocacy groups. Most importantly, I am listening to the ideas that my constituents have proposed for fighting gun violence in America. As the national debate on gun violence moves forward, I want you to know what my guiding principles on this issue will be.

First, I believe that doing nothing is not an option. Like all Americans, I am heartbroken by the shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. The murder of twenty first-graders and seven adults, six of whom worked at the school, was a tragedy beyond comprehension. As the husband of a retired principal and teacher and the father of two boys, this shooting hit particularly close to home for me and my family.

Sadly, too many other communities have also experienced incidents of gun violence. The South Sound has not been spared. Six people were injured in a mass-shooting at the Tacoma Mall in 2005. Four Lakewood police officers were killed in 2009 while sitting in a coffee shop. Every day in communities around America there are tragic gun deaths that rip neighborhoods and families apart. 
I believe we must do more to prevent gun violence in this country. No child should go to school scared of being shot. Every American deserves to live in a society free of the threat of gun violence. I am committed to working to reduce gun violence and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and those who are dangerously mentally ill. Let me repeat: Doing nothing is not an option.

Second, I believe that all proposals aimed at reducing gun violence should be evaluated in an evidence-based way. We should enact policies that research shows us will actually work and be effective at reducing gun violence. Unfortunately, researchers looking into ways to reduce gun violence face unnecessary and inappropriate barriers in conducting their work. For example, Congress has placed restrictions on the ability of the Centers for Disease Control to do research into the cause of gun violence. It has also placed restrictions on what data federal agencies can release to researchers looking to study gun violence. These laws limit our ability to even understand the scope of the problem confronting us. These laws should be repealed.

Third, I believe we must strike a reasonable balance between respecting the Second Amendment and the need to keep our communities safe. I know many are greatly concerned Congress or the President will act in a way that damages the Second Amendment or targets hunters and sportsmen. I grew up a hunter and understand these concerns. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled in favor of the right of individual firearm ownership and Congress and the President need to respect this.
I believe it is possible for us to have common sense gun laws that will protect Americans without at all threatening our right to bear arms. For example, Congress has already placed significant restrictions on the production and ownership of tanks, bazookas, machine guns and other automatic weapons. Individuals who meet certain criteria, such as those who have been deemed dangerously mentally ill, are also not allowed to own firearms. I support these laws and support making sure we do a better job enforcing them.

One new action that I believe would better strike a balance between respecting the Second Amendment and keeping our communities safe is closing what some have called the "gun show loophole." This is an omission in federal law which allows individuals to purchase firearms at gun shows without having to undergo a background check. They would be required to undergo this background check if they were purchasing a firearm at a brick-and-mortar store, and visiting a gun show allows them to slip past this security check. I strongly believe that individuals who have committed violent felonies or who are dangerously mentally ill should not be able to evade background checks simply by purchasing a firearm at a local gun show.

Finally, as we look for ways to reduce gun violence, I believe we need to look beyond gun laws. We need to take steps to make our schools a safer place for kids and teachers. Every school in America should have a comprehensive emergency management plan in place, and every school must take steps to reduce violence and bullying. 

We also need to improve access to mental healthcare. While only a small minority of those who have a mental illness are violent, we cannot let these individuals slip through the cracks of our healthcare system. Congress needs to continue making sure health insurance policies fully cover necessary mental health coverage, and we need an increased focus on mental health treatment for young Americans between the ages of 16 and 25. These young people are the least likely to seek assistance for a mental illness despite being one of the age groups with the highest risk of developing one.

There is no single action we can take to fully eliminate gun violence. However, the immensity of this problem cannot be an excuse for inaction. In the weeks and months ahead, I look forward to continuing to hear from you and other constituents about what we can do to tackle this problem. Please do not hesitate to contact my office again as this debate continues. 

Denny Heck 
Member of Congress

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