Bergeron: Policy makers must take meaningful steps to address gun violence

Published 12:20 am Sunday, December 6, 2015

When will Americans realize gun violence is a problem, and enough people die every year to warrant significant action?

It hasn’t happened recently. Too many mass shootings to recount have occurred in the past two years, but wide-ranging policy discussions among lawmakers haven’t occurred. Most recently, 14 people were killed and 21 injured while attending a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif. Again, we’re left waiting for leaders to enact changes that prevent more Americans from being brutally slain or injured.

The aforementioned incident and all mass shootings represent acts of terror. When someone who follows Islam commits the crime, we call it terrorism. Ethnicity, religion and other demographic characteristics are irrelevant. It’s always terrorism.

North Carolina is not immune to gun violence.

Salisbury residents witnessed a string of violence in 2015; police connected it to gang activity. It’s unclear whether we’ve actually addressed the problem. The Salisbury Police Department and Rowan County Sheriff’s Office announced a partnership to combat the outbreak. However, the same shootings are just as likely to happen today as they were in September.

We can’t wait several weeks after a shooting to address gun violence. The argument is moot. Waiting a month, a week even, will only delay meaningful discussion long enough for another shooting to occur.

A website that’s gained national attention in the past week for its analysis of mass shootings estimates 35 such incidents have occurred in North Carolina from 2013 to 2015. Called Mass Shooting Tracker, it sets the bar at four people shot instead of four murdered. The website uses local media reports as evidence that an incident occurred.

“It is only logical that a mass shooting is four or more people shot in one event. Here at Mass Shooting Tracker, we count the number of people shot rather than the number of people killed because, ‘shooting’ means ‘people shot,’” the site states.

By that definition, seven mass shootings occurred in Charlotte from 2013 to 2015. Three occurred in Fayetteville. With injuries and deaths combined, a Jan. 11, 2015, shooting in Hope Mills — near Fayetteville — is the most significant mass shooting in North Carolina since 2013. Two were killed and five were injured. The shooting occurred during a house party.

The website estimates more than 350 mass shooting incidents have occurred nationwide since the start of 2015.

To gauge opinions of Rowan County’s members of Congress, the Salisbury Post sent the same request to our county’s three U.S. representatives and two U.S. senators. Four responded. Sen. Richard Burr’s office did not send a response.

Rep. Alma Adams, D-12, sent the most detailed response. Adams and the three other members of Congress who responded supported starting a conversation. Why, then, hasn’t one gained enough traction to make it to President Barack Obama’s desk for a signature? As Adams points out, meaningful legislation hasn’t been discussed.

“It has been disheartening to see the amount of gun violence that has taken place in this country since I was first sworn into Congress,” Adams said in her statement.

“What is even more disheartening is the lack of effort on behalf of Congress to bring meaningful gun safety measures to the floor of the House and Senate. And, unfortunately, I cannot say when House and Senate leadership will finally stand up to criminals by forcing floor debate on legislation that will have a real impact on banning prohibited purchasers from obtaining firearms.”

To be clear, Adams said law-abiding gun owners shouldn’t suffer from any legislation passed by Congress.

She proposed several talking points to begin conversations, including: a stronger background check system, guaranteeing purchasers cannot obtain firearms through loopholes in current laws, increasing penalties for those who buy firearms for individuals who can’t buy guns themselves and making gun trafficking a federal offense. Adams called her proposals “bipartisan ideas for which legislation has been introduced and even voted on, on the Senate floor after the Sandy Hook incident.”

Rep. Richard Hudson, R-8, said mental illness is common in mass shootings. Hudson pointed out he’s a co-sponsor of a bill called the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. He characterized the bill as directing federal efforts to make psychiatric care available for families dealing with mental health crises.

“A knee-jerk reaction for more gun control laws does nothing to address the root cause of these senseless acts of violence and will only infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” Hudson said in his statement.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-8, said “the problem of evil cannot be legislated away.” Mental illness is where policy makers should focus their attention, she said.

Likewise, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis focused on mental health. In his statement, Tillis said he’s supported legislations strengthening Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens while cracking down on criminals and bad actors.

So, when will we address our nationwide gun violence problem? Our members of Congress seem ready, but Americans and North Carolinians will only benefit when meaningful legislation is passed.

“I look forward to continuing working with my colleagues in Congress to address mental illness and gun violence without infringing on our constitutional rights,” says Hudson.

Josh Bergeron writes about county government, politics and the environment for the Salisbury Post.