By Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League
“At trauma centers across this country, we have seen the pain with our own eyes. We have cleaned the blood from our own hands. Sometimes the blood soaks through our scrubs and socks. We can wash away the blood, but the pain stays with us. I cannot fully grasp the tragic impact of the lives lost. Yet I am still hopeful. If we take concrete actions now, if we do the small things now, then we will create the big changes later. These changes will stem the tide of gun violence that has become such a devastating problem in our country.” — Trauma surgeon Selwyn Rogers, Testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee, March 23, 2021
On March 12, Boulder County District Court Judge Andrew Hartman blocked the city of Boulder from enforcing its assault weapons ban. Four days later, a 21-year-old with a record of violence and mental instability purchased the Ruger AR-556 pistol he reportedly used to kill 10 people at a Boulder supermarket last week.
The gun used to kill eight people in an Atlanta-area shooting spree that targeted Asian women last week was purchased just hours before the killings; Georgia has no waiting period for firearms purchases.
We grieve the loss of these lives and the many lives lost or forever changed by injury due to gun violence every year. Every day in the United States, 100 people are killed by guns. Without action at the federal level, innocent lives will continue to be senselessly lost. More guns were sold in 2020 than any year in history: at least 20 million, an increase of more than 7 and a half million over 2019.
There were more than 43,500 deaths by gunfire in 2020, including almost 300 children under the age of 11. Our basic right to safety is undermined by gun violence.
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021, which requires background checks on all commercial firearm sales, including gun shows and online sales. Prospective online buyers are seven times more likely to fail a background check than other firearm purchasers or permit applicants, suggesting that prohibited buyers seek out opportunities to skip a background check.
The House also voted to close the “Charleston loophole,” which allows the sale of a gun if a background check hasn’t been completed in three days. The white supremacist who massacred nine Black worshippers at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in 2015 obtained his firearm through this loophole.
The “Charleston Loophole” has put over 75,000 guns into the hands of prohibited gun owners since 1998, according to South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn, who introduced the bill.
President Biden has also called for a reinstatement of the federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Gun massacres during the ban period fell by 37 percent, compared with the 10-year period before the ban, and the number of who died in mass shootings fell by 43 percent, according to Columbia University researcher Louis Klarevas. In the 10 years after the ban lapsed, the number of mass shootings nearly tripled, and the number of people who died in mass shootings rose by 239 percent.
The National Urban League wholeheartedly supports all three of these measures.
The Senate Judiciary Committee convened this week to discuss these and other common-sense proposals to reduce gun violence. As Senator Richard Blumenthal, chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution pointed out, even states with strong gun laws are still at the mercy of the ones with the weakest, because guns have no respect for state boundaries. That’s why we need federal solutions to stem the tide of gun violence.
Gun law inconsistencies from city-to-city and state-to-state leave our communities vulnerable to underground gun markets and loopholes, with Black and Brown communities suffering disproportionate rates of gun homicide as a result.
The National Urban League is fully committed to common sense gun violence prevention and reduction strategies and we call on every member of Congress to join us in that commitment. We cannot wait any longer. We deserve to feel safe.
Marc H. Morial is President and CEO of the National Urban League, the nation’s largest historic civil rights and urban advocacy organization. As Mayor of New Orleans from 1994 to 2002, Morial led New Orleans’ renaissance, and left office with a 70% approval rating. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Economics and African American Studies, he also holds a law degree from the Georgetown University.