Every day is a Newtown. The anniversary of the tragic shooting ensures we will never (and should never) forget the unthinkable killing of innocent schoolchildren — yet we remain at risk from gun violence in “Ourtown” each day. Thirty-two Americans are murdered each day, and 140 treated for gun assault injuries in emergency rooms. As the painful memory of the senseless murder of children and dedicated professionals fades with the activity of the holidays and the demands of our busy lives, we should ask “what has changed” since the Newtown, Conn., shootings?
Is it realistically possible to change these terrible moments without acknowledging there are reasonable limits to gun ownership? I stand with the vast majority of Americans, nine out of ten, and three out of every four NRA members, who agree that we should have universal background checks. As shown by studies from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, since the law was initially passed, about 2 million attempts to purchase firearms have been blocked because of information revealed in a background check. About half of those were felons. Yet, today, it is easy to legally purchase a weapon without a background check. Our current background check system only applies to about 60 percent of gun sales, leaving 40 percent without a background check, including those purchased from gun shows and Internet sales.
I trained with and carried a weapon as part of my law enforcement and military duties throughout a 28-year career in the military. As a captain in the U.S. Coast Guard it was my job to protect the homeland and our communities from violence here. Relying on a “good guy” with a gun? That is too late in most circumstances. As we work to further protect our communities, do we really want a police officer in every school? Armed guards in movie theaters? There is a documented behavior known as the “authoritarian reflex” — recall our desire for visible armed protection in public places immediately following 9/11. Metal detectors and tactical teams in shopping malls? Law enforcement alone can only do so much. A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.
The responsible gun owners in the state of Virginia can and should consider the most effective and least-intrusive options that protect both our constitutional right to “bear arms” and the right of all citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I ask our elected officials and all Virginians to support improved mental health care and universal background checks. We can do both, and protect all our rights.
I recently joined Veterans for Responsible Solutions, a national constituency of retired flag officers and senior officers, and former enlisted service members of the U.S. armed forces founded by former astronaut and Navy Capt. Mark Kelly. With some 300 of us around the country from all branches and ranks, we’re working to share our expertise with guns and experiences as vets in support of responsible gun ownership policies and measures to reduce gun violence.
Yes, this is Virginia — home of the NRA. But even polling in red states, and right here in Virginia, shows a majority of Americans support background checks to stop felons, domestic abusers, the seriously mentally ill, and other dangerous people from buying firearms. But Congress still has not gotten the job done.
While we’re fortunate that our two senators fought hard and voted to close the gun show loophole and Internet sales of firearms to criminals, we need our members of Congress — including Eric Cantor of Richmond — to speak out in favor of background checks for all gun purchases.
Our delegation should support and fund, if not lead, improvements in our mental health care system, support funding research programs into gun violence, and close the background checks loophole that allows felons and dangerous people to buy firearms at gun shows and online. It is time to let them know we are behind their efforts — and need real results.
Reston resident Gail Kulisch, a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain, is working with former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords and Capt. Mark Kelly in the creation of Veterans for Responsible Solutions, which launched recently.