On Feb. 14, 17 children and educators were gunned down inside their school in Parkland, Fla. The idea of parents saying goodbye to their kids in the morning only to never see them again is too horrific to put into words. But while most of us know about the tragedy in Parkland, we’ve heard barely a thing about the dozens of other shootings that have occurred already in 2018.
Americans have become so desensitized to horrific violence that many tragedies that would be unthinkable in most developed nations barely register in the news cycle in the United States. In fact, on that day alone, there were at least seven other victims killed in shootings throughout the country.
Here in Colorado we are all too familiar with the agony of gun violence. Communities like Littleton, Thornton, Colorado Springs, and Aurora still grapple with the reality of family members never returning home from a movie, school, their doctor’s office, or simply running errands.
In my time in public office, I’ve encountered few issues as polarizing as our nation’s deadly gun violence epidemic. It shouldn’t be this way. Like most Coloradans, I support our Second Amendment right to use guns for defense and sport. And like most Coloradans, I think we should take action to reduce gun violence and help save lives. Nothing about these views is incompatible.
We’ve already taken bold action here in Colorado to tackle gun violence, including passing universal background checks and closing the gun-show loophole. As governor, I would stand up to the gun-manufacturing lobby and build on the progress we’ve made in several ways.
First, we need to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. Again and again, we see mass shootings carried out by men with a history of abusing the women in their lives. Every year in this country, more than 750 people, mostly women, are murdered by current or former intimate partners with a gun. What’s more, the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide for women by 500 percent. When a domestic abuser with a pattern of violent threats or actions is issued a restraining order, law enforcement should be empowered to go to court to suspend the abuser’s access to firearms. We can do this in a way that protects due process for the accused
We also must do a better job getting weapons of war — which serve no legitimate sporting purpose — off our streets. And we should ban bump stocks, devices designed solely to convert legal weapons into illegal weapons that can kill dozens of people in less than a minute.
Too often when we discuss gun violence, we don’t acknowledge the toll it takes on the men and women of law enforcement. Since Dec. 31, three Colorado sheriff’s deputies have been shot and killed in the line of duty. Though we can’t fully eliminate the risks officers face on the job, we can work to minimize them — starting with ensuring all officers in Colorado are equipped with bullet-proof vests. I would also like to convene a task force of community leaders and law enforcement members to put forward best practices for police safety such as the use of ballistic plates, helmets, and other advanced protective gear that doesn’t result in situation escalation.
Another too-often overlooked but deadly issue is black-market gun sales, which are enabling violent criminals and gangs to purchase firearms without background checks. The root of this issue is gun theft. In 2015 and 2016 alone, smash-and-grab gun store robberies resulted in nearly 400 guns being stolen in Colorado. We should work to equip gun shops with strong security measures like closed-circuit cameras, discrete signage, and reinforced windows, which are already required of marijuana dispensaries in Colorado. We can also look to the example of communities outside Colorado, such as Richmond, Va., that have strengthened penalties for illegal gun sales and for selling guns to felons — and seen armed robberies and gun homicides drop substantially as a result.
Finally, when you examine the issue of gun violence closely enough, it’s impossible to discuss it without also addressing mental health care, addiction prevention, and criminal justice reform. It would take several more essays to do each of these subjects justice, but for now I will just say that a safer society is one in which mental illness is not stigmatized, addiction is treated through medical care rather than prison, and race doesn’t dictate one’s likelihood of being a victim of violent crime
It’s unfortunate that some politicians care more about what a handful of high-powered Washington lobbyists think than what the American people need. Even though an overwhelming majority of Americans — including more than three quarters of gun owners — support common-sense measures like universal background checks, we can’t even get a vote on them in either chamber of Congress.
These lobbyists will tell you that trying to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists is somehow equivalent to trying to ban law-abiding Americans from owning guns. That’s like saying supporting anti-drunk-driving laws is the same thing as trying to ban cars.
We should continue to demand action from Congress. But there is also a lot we can do right here, right now to save lives in Colorado. We just have to stop rehashing partisan talking points and commit to taking real action.
Jared Polis is a Democratic candidate for Colorado governor and currently is the U.S. representative for Colorado’s 2nd District.