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Editorial: Senate inaction on gun violence prevention is shameful

Danbury News Times

Every day that the U.S. Senate fails to act, another 80 or so people die.

Most of the country would be demanding accountability — if the subject were anything other than gun violence prevention.

Shamefully, Senate leadership considers it acceptable to let the death count continue unabated while it does nothing. More than 100 days ago the U.S. House of Representatives passed, in bipartisan fashion, a bill requiring universal background checks to purchase a firearm. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, introduced a Senate version of the bill.

Since then — silence. Senate leadership refuses to debate the bill, let alone call it for a vote. Considering that more than 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks, the stonewalling ignores the will of the people in favor of the gun lobby. Who do these Republican senators represent? The answer is obvious, and damning.

Gun violence is an epidemic in this country. No one bill will stop it, but every measure adopted can be a step toward abating the shootings.

As of Friday, the 165th day of the year, this country had 150 mass shootings. As horrific as that is, the majority of the 10,000 people who have been shot to death in America since the House passed the universal background checks bill are not from mass shootings; most are suicides, accidents or homicides, Murphy said.

What could be the objection to universal background checks? To purchase a gun, the individual has to prove no criminal record or serious mental illness; the bill extends the requirement to all gun sales including private transactions. There are exemptions, such as sales among family members and temporary use of a gun for hunting.

Research shows that common sense legislation can reduce deaths by firearms. In Connecticut, gun homicides were down by 40 percent after the state adopted universal background checks. Our state is ahead of the federal government, but until the measures are country-wide any protection is limited.

Murphy and fellow Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal introduced two other pieces of legislation that should be considered. The federal Handgun Purchaser Licensing Act would create a grant program to give incentives for state and local governments require individuals to obtain a license before purchasing a handgun. Connecticut already requires a permit.

The Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence would repeal the 2005 legislation that protected gun manufacturers from liability. Families of several victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy have gone to court to sue manufacturers of the weapons that killed first graders and educators.

But the consequences are broader. As Murphy pointed out, the industry now has no financial reason to invest in technology to make the products safer. That must change.

The path to gun violence prevention has been painfully slow, with the states leading the way. U.S. Senate leadership has to learn there are consequences to stubbornly ignoring the wishes of the majority and failing to take measures to protect the American people.