Office of the United States Attorney, John S. Leonardo
District of Arizona
January 18 , 2013
Letter to the Editor on Gun Control
TUCSON, Ariz. - In the wake of the January 8, 2011 shooting here in Tucson, and other mass shooting incidents in this country since then, culminating with the school shooting in Connecticut last month, the political climate for a constructive discussion about gun control appears to be more favorable now than ever before. If not now, when? In recognition of this, the President and Vice President are leading an effort to identify concrete steps that can be taken to help prevent mass shootings and reduce gun violence in this country. As the President said, “While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence – if even one life can be saved – we have an obligation to try.” Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly have also responded to this issue by founding Americans for Responsible Solutions to help foster this discussion and move it forward.
What are the most reasonable, widely accepted, steps that can be taken? The President outlined four areas:
- Close background check loopholes to keep guns out of the hands of criminals;
- Ban military-style assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and armor piercing bullets;
- Make schools safer; and
- Increase access to mental health services.
The primary action is closing the background check loopholes that now allow a person legally prohibited from possessing guns to obtain them, without a background check, simply by buying them at a gun show. This is an obvious step that has little opposition. The only issue is a practical one: how to provide background checks in a private gun sale? A common sense, not overly burdensome, solution would be to require all gun sales and exchanges to go through a licensed firearms dealer that has the ability to run a background check. Dealers would be entitled to collect a modest fee for their trouble and every firearms exchange would then be subject to the same screening process to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. This system would also maintain up to date and accurate gun ownership information that would assist law enforcement in tracing guns involved in crimes.
The second essential part of any effort to keep guns out of the hands of criminals must be to get tougher on those who buy guns with the express purpose of selling them to criminals and punishing anyone who helps such “straw purchasers.” The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has the primary responsibility of enforcing our gun laws, but it has been hampered in its mission by both a lack of effective law and resources, and the fact that Congress has not confirmed a director of this agency in six years.
Congress should restore a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10 round limit for magazines. The type of assault rifle used in Aurora, for example, when paired with high capacity magazines, has one purpose: to pump out as many bullets as possible, as quickly as possible – bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage. While such a ban would not eliminate the possibility of a mass shooting, it would likely reduce the extent of the damage and loss of lives that could be inflicted in such a situation. The shooters at Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown all used magazines holding more than 10 rounds. These high capacity magazines, which currently come standard with many handguns and rifles, enable any semiautomatic weapon to be used as an instrument of mass violence.
We need to make our schools safer. Each school is different and should have the flexibility to address its most pressing needs. Some school will want trained and armed police; others may prefer increased emergency training and counseling services. Either way, each community should be able to choose what is best to protect its own students and teachers. New resources should be provide to hire school psychologists, social workers, and counselors to support students struggling with mental health issues and thereby help to avert a crisis before it occurs. School security systems and safety equipment should be available, and every school should have a high-quality emergency plan in place.
We need to keep guns out of the hands of people with serious mental illness, but we also need to identify mental health issues early and help individuals get the treatment they need, before dangerous situations develop. Teachers and others who regularly interact with students are in the best position to recognize young people who need help and ensure they are referred for mental health services. The President has proposed stipends and tuition reimbursements to train more than 5000 additional mental health professions to serve students and young people; he has also proposed that health insurance plans cover mental health benefits at parity with other benefits.
While most American believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to bear arms, they also believe that we all share a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to ensure that guns are used safely and don’t fall into the wrong hands. The President’s proposals recognize both our right and our obligations.
John S. Leonardo
United States Attorney
District of Arizona
RELEASE NUMBER: 2013-007_Letter to the Editor on Gun Control
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For more information on the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Arizona, visit http://www.justice.gov/usao/az/