As mass shootings mount, enacting stricter gun laws is the morally right thing to do

April 17 marks a sad anniversary. It’s the day, eight years ago, when Congress failed to expand background checks on gun purchases.

Fast-forward: 2020 saw record gun sales without background checks — and record gun deaths.

President Joe Biden recently announced a six-point response to what the White House calls the “Gun Violence Public Health Epidemic.” Action in the face of the most recent onslaught of gun massacres — including the shooting deaths Thursday night of at least eight people at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis — is a moral necessity, and a welcome relief to a nation shredded by the persistent, tragic, unnecessary loss of life through gun violence.

But even with the administration’s actions, Congress’ work is not done. It appears that more than 300,000 Americans purchased a gun without a background check during the pandemic, including 75,000 flagged purchasers — those who would not have been able to legally buy a gun had there been a background check.

An estimated 22% of U.S. gun owners acquired their most recent firearm without a background check. This ought to shock us all.

Even amid unprecedented death and grief during the COVID-19 pandemic, American gun deaths reached a historic high, with mass shootings jumping nearly 50%. Guns now kill about 40,000 Americans a year, comparable to the toll of vehicle accidents (39,000), breast cancer (42,000), liver disease (43,000) and pancreatic cancer (45,000).

We must not become numb to this continual flood of needless and senseless death. 

April 16, 2021: People hug after learning that their loved one is safe after a person shot and killed 8 people inside a FedEx building in Indianapolis. (Photo: Mykal McEldowney, Indianapolis Star via USA TODAY NETWORK)

Six years ago, nine Black Americans were slaughtered during Bible study at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C., by a man with a criminal record who was nevertheless able to purchase a gun without a background check.

Close the Charleston loophole

Today, the purchase of guns without background checks is referred to as the Charleston loophole; these guns are purchased in stores, through private sales, at gun shows and over the internet. We’re not talking about a handful of purchases that slip through the cracks. 

When a background check flags a gun purchaser, the FBI works to determine if that person can legally buy a gun. But if that process takes longer than three days, gun dealers are allowed to complete the sale, even knowing the purchaser may be legally disqualified from the purchase.

This policy is not only nonsensical, it is a moral violation of the sanctity of life. And Americans know it: at least 96% of U.S. adults support requiring expanded background checks for all gun purchases, including 89% of Republicans and 87% of gun owners. There’s no radical agenda here. 

Expanded background check legislation must be reintroduced in the House and Senate and passed without delay. 

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 together with the Background Check Completion Act would require those background checks and close the Charleston Loophole. Two years ago, the House passed an expanded background checks bill, but it died on the Senate floor. Thousands of people have been killed in more than 1,000 mass shootings since then. 

Background checks save lives

Senators who say background checks don’t work are wrong. Background checks save lives and reduce levels of gun violence. This legislation is in everyone’s best interest: parents, schools, clergy, houses of worship, law enforcement, gun owners, and even the federal government and the gun manufacturers and sellers who could shoulder liability. 

We are clergy members. Our work is to comfort the bereaved. It’s also to fight for a more just and loving society in which human beings are not cruelly killed by the tens of thousands every year because the gun lobby has a stranglehold on Congress. 

It’s been 25 years since the federal government enacted any gun safety law. That’s 25 years of grief and devastation that could have been prevented.

Our faiths teach us that every person is created in God’s own image and endowed with inestimable worth by virtue of being human. Every life is precious and a gift from God, and guns destroy that Divine presence 100 times every day on the streets of this country. That is an affront we simply cannot abide. 

Members of Congress: We beseech you to listen to your constituents.

We will never accept gun massacres, gun murders and gun suicides as inevitable or acceptable. Now is the time to find your moral courage. It is that simple; you must stand on the side of what is safe, just and right. 

The Rev. Jacqui Lewis is senior minister of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. Sharon Brous is senior rabbi of IKAR, Los Angeles. Both are Auburn senior fellows.

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