In 2013, I stood next to then-Vice President Joe Biden and then-President Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden after the Senate failed to pass background checks legislation championed by Sen. Pat Toomey and others on a bipartisan basis after Sandy Hook. In the years since, nearly 40,000 lives have been lost to gun violence every single year — that’s more than 300,000 Americans dead. Meanwhile, Congress has failed to pass a single significant gun violence prevention bill.
Today my organization, Giffords, is installing 1,700 vases at Independence Mall to memorialize the 1,700 Pennsylvanians who lost their lives to gun violence last year. I was grateful to Sen. Bob Casey for joining me at the dedication. Every senator in every state should be telling their constituents what they’re going to do to address rising rates of gun violence. Instead, Senate Republicans continue to block progress, even as gun violence surges across the country.
While some Republicans, like Sen. Toomey, have supported universal background checks, most of those elected Republicans fail to represent the Americans who vote as Republicans, as well as independents and Democrats, who widely support universal background checks.
A vote for background checks shouldn’t have to be courageous. More than 90% of “ticket splitter” American voters (like Pennsylvanians) support universal background checks, including the majority of Democrats, Republicans, independents, and gun owners. Giffords organizes responsible gun owners who support commonsense solutions that respect Second Amendment rights. We recently ran a series on our blog, “The NRA Doesn’t Speak for Me,” highlighting some of their voices.
We have waited far too long to enact this foundational piece of gun safety legislation, which would reduce gun violence by keeping guns out of the hands of people legally prohibited from having them. Background checks have stopped more than three million gun sales by licensed dealers since 1994.
But gaping holes in our federal laws allow millions of guns to be sold by unlicensed dealers without background checks online, at gun shows, and through unregulated person-to-person sales. In fact, more than one in five gun owners acquired their most recent firearm without a background check.
The consequences of this and other failures in our laws are nothing short of devastating. Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed in a gun homicide than people in other high-income countries, and nearly every American will know at least one victim of gun violence in their lifetime.
In the ten years since I was shot, I’ve spoken to many fellow survivors, united and unequivocal in their demand for change. People like Phil Fountain, who lost his sister this spring in the King Soopers mass shooting and wrote in a letter to her: “If an elected official can do something to prevent this from happening to one of their own family members, how can they live with themselves knowing they did nothing to make things better?”
Gun violence is surging in cities across the country. In Philadelphia, homicides are up 25% from this time last year. Yet, despite rising gun violence, special interest groups like the NRA and National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) still have a stranglehold on our politics — even as they become more extremist.
In the ten years since I was shot, I’ve spoken to many fellow survivors, united and unequivocal in their demand for change.
They’ll tell you that we don’t need new gun laws and that background checks infringe on Second Amendment rights, while failing to condemn individuals using their firearms to harass, intimidate, and threaten peaceful protesters and elected officials.
As Giffords’ Gun Law Scorecard proves every year, states with stronger gun laws have less gun violence. And these states are able to pass these laws without infringing on the right of any Americans to own a gun. It’s because of the special interests and gun lobby that the gun violence crisis has been ignored for more than a decade.
The American people want their elected officials to put their safety over the interests of the gun lobby. The House of Representatives passed universal background checks — with support from both parties — more than 150 days ago. It’s time for the Senate to finish the job.
Gabby Giffords is a former congresswoman from Arizona and cofounder of Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence. She survived an assassination attempt in January 2011 that took the lives of six people. @GabbyGiffords