Democracy in Action Is More Powerful Than Any Gun

People attend a vigil for victims of the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on July 29, 2019, in Gilroy, California. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The mass shootings that took place in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton can be called many things. Massacres. Acts of terrorism. Hate crimes. An epidemic. One thing you cannot call them is an accident.

These shootings were — and remain — entirely preventable. But only if our government — and specifically, our federal government — has the courage and humanity to act.

A common thread in all of these shootings is that the perpetrator used military-grade guns. In murdering 31 innocent people and seriously injuring dozens more — in a matter of minutes in each case — these guns did exactly what they were designed to do: kill people as efficiently as possible. The guns were easy to obtain. Their central role in these and similar atrocities is impossible to ignore.

Preventing mass shootings from happening again is not about ideology, identity, party, or politics. It’s about saving lives. Emergency room doctors and nurses know this better than anyone. That’s why they are among the most vocal proponents for modernizing our gun laws.

In 1996, Australia had its own wake-up call when a local shooter armed with military-grade guns killed 35 people and seriously injured 23 more in the town of Port Arthur. The government responded by outlawing such weapons and enacting additional gun reforms. In the 18 years prior to the Port Arthur massacre, there were 13 other mass shootings in Australia where 5 or more people were killed. In the 23 years since the government took action, they have had no mass shootings.

I am proud of California’s leaders and voters who have consistently taken steps to prevent gun violence. The state now has the most comprehensive gun safety laws in the country. It enlists researchers to track data on gun violence. It empowers health professionals to do community outreach and patient education to stop shootings before they happen. Not surprisingly, California has one of the nation’s lowest rates of gun deaths.

Unfortunately, California does not have the power to protect its people alone. The Gilroy attacker circumvented California’s requirements by purchasing his gun in Nevada. After Californians passed a ballot measure to ban the sale of high-capacity magazines in 2016, a federal court ruled the law unconstitutional. (An appeal is underway.)

California should keep moving forward to protect its people. It should continue to serve as a model for other states. And it should use whatever leverage it has to compel its federal counterpart to be part of the solution, rather than the cause of harm.

Ultimately, I have faith that our nation will get there, if all who are sickened by the violence continue to make our voices and our values heard. Democracy in action is more powerful than any gun.

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