U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy: We can no longer be silent about gun violence

News Times

I remember the hours and days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I remember feeling like I needed to be restrained about talking about the obvious policy issues that tumbled out of the facts surrounding that tragedy.

But I held back because it felt like the mourning and the grieving should take precedence over action. It took me only up to the first wake that I attended to realize I was wrong.

In the years since, these mass shootings have become as commonplace as rain storms. Since 2011, the number of mass shootings in the United States has tripled — tripled. After each one, the forces of the status quo — the defenders of the gun industry — tell us we can’t talk about policy reform in the days after a shooting. How convenient that, at the moment when the world is watching, when the country is asking itself what we can do to make sure another mass slaughter doesn’t happen again, the rules say that we can’t say a word.

But think about how these rules would work, because Charleston happens 10 times over, every single day, across this country. Eighty-six people die, on average, every day because of guns.

If we can’t talk about anti-gun violence policy the day after a large number of Americans are shot, then you will never talk about anti-gun violence policy. But even if you accept that there is never a bad time to talk about how we can end this carnage, then we also have to have the courage to take on all of the other ridiculous arguments about why we can’t act.

Now, the first one is familiar because it comes right after the mass shooting happens. A former NRA board member trotted this one out within hours of Charleston: He said that the solution was to just arm more pastors and parishioners in churches so that they can defend themselves. The more people that have guns, the less people will die from guns — goes this logic.

The problem with that is — it is a boldfaced lie. Study after study show that the more guns there are in a community, the more crime there is. The more guns, the more gun homicides.

The second argument is one that I have heard from my Republican colleagues in the Senate just in the last few days — that these laws can’t stop a madman like Dylann Roof or Adam Lanza from perpetrating violence. Some of my colleagues say that our only recourse is to close our eyes and pray that this doesn’t happen again.

But again, these stubborn facts betray that argument. Now that we have states that have loose gun laws and states that have tougher gun laws, we can see what happens. Over and over research shows us that jurisdictions that make it a little bit harder for bad guys to get guns have less gun deaths.

In my state of Connecticut, Johns Hopkins researchers concluded that our permit-to-carry laws have reduced gun crimes by 40 percent. Similarly, they concluded that in Missouri, the repeal of similar laws increased gun homicides by 25 percent.

There is evidence that a different set of laws could have — not would have — could have stopped Dylann Roof without having any effect on law-abiding gun owners in South Carolina.

Separate and aside from the specific case-by-case impact of any law is the collective moral and psychological effect of non-action.

No matter how maligned Congress becomes, we still set the moral tone for the nation. When we declare something to be morally out of bounds, especially when we do it in a bipartisan or nonpartisan manner, Americans listen.

That is why, in my heart of hearts, I believe that our silence has made us complicit in these murders. When we do nothing year after year, our silence sends a silent message of endorsement to the killers.

Those hanging on the edge of reason, those contemplating the unthinkable take a cue that we don’t really mean it when we condemn mass violence, because if we did, we would try to do something — anything — to stop it and we don’t.

So we need real action, a real debate. We need real, honest policy to happen here. And no, it’s not all about guns. It’s about mental health, it’s about law enforcement, and it’s about a culture of violence and hate that we have just become immune to.

The U.S. gun homicide rate is 20 times higher than that of our 22 peer nations. Since Sandy Hook, there has been a school shooting, on average, every week.

How on Earth can we live with ourselves if we do nothing, or worse, if we don’t even try?

These are excerpts of testimony U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy gave Wednesday on the Senate floor.