Last week, President Barack Obama unveiled an eagerly anticipated set of proposals to end gun violence collected by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s taskforce. This comes at a critical juncture in the debate over violence that has raged in our country in the past few years.
On one side of the spectrum, governors around the nation are taking steps in their own legislatures to find state-based solutions to stem the rising tide of violence, with New York leading the pack this week, putting in place the nation’s strictest gun control laws. Democrats in the House have also established their own gun violence working group, led by my California colleague Rep. Mike Thompson. On the other, the National Rifle Association has dug in its heels against any change to the status quo, even introducing an ill-timed and insensitive target-practice mobile game for children ages 4 and up.
In the midst of this, the president is setting the tone on what kind of nation we want to be in the future: one that honors the memories of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died from gun violence in the past decade. These victims and their families deserve much more than what’s been given them by our nation’s leaders. That is why it is critical that the president presented a comprehensive uniform vision rather than focusing only on small reachable goals. State-based and incremental federal solutions are a good start in addressing this tragic problem, but without a true federal framework addressing the inherent causes of violence in our country, problems will still exist. Here’s why.
Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the country yet was still unable to prevent the tragedy in Newtown. The shooter had his mother’s legally purchased gun and a history of warning signs. This is why it is critical that every American has coverage for mental and addictive disorders on par with coverage for other medical conditions. In a recent national survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, Americans overwhelmingly — 93 percent — agreed that mental health and addiction treatment services should be covered and included in any basic private health care plan.
Throughout my career in Congress, I have worked tirelessly on the issue of mental health parity, and I am proud to have played a part in ensuring that one of the 10 essential health benefits in the Affordable Care Act is mental health/addiction treatment. Yet, the kind basic kind of coverage described here is impossible to attain without the power of the federal government behind it.
Part of the need for a comprehensive solution also comes from the fact that guns can be transported across state lines. Determined criminals can still retreat to areas of the country that have more lax laws. Similarly, gun trafficking laws have a higher burden of proof for conviction than any other comparable laws on the books. Rather than criminalizing the sale of guns to anyone who cannot pass a background check, current laws require prosecutors to prove that the seller knew they were selling to someone who could not pass a background check — something nearly impossible to prove.