We all watched in horror.
Last week, the tight-knit community of Uvalde, Texas, was ravaged by a mass shooting at an elementary school. Two teachers and 19 children were slaughtered in their fourth-grade classroom at the hands of an 18-year-old armed with an assault-style rifle. Parents received the worst news they will ever hear: “Your baby is gone.”
As a mother, I know the worry American parents feel across the country when we send our children off to school. But it is the reality that countless American children live in fear of being murdered in their classrooms that should unite Americans across the nation in wanting change.
Today, June 3, marks National Gun Violence Awareness Day. As a legislator who believes that no American should live in fear of being murdered, I know that it’s long past time to enact commonsense gun violence prevention legislation.
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Since I came to Congress, I have voted twice to pass the Bipartisan Background Checks Act to ensure existing laws meant to keep guns out of the hands of those with a history of violence are being enforced—ensuring that background checks occur for all purchases, including for sales online and at gun shows.
I have also voted twice in support of the Enhanced Background Checks Act, which would extend the amount of time that federal law enforcement has to complete background checks. While 91% of checks are cleared within minutes, law enforcement has three business days to return that last 9%. If this window expires, the background check defaults to an approval—known as a “default proceed.” Now known as the “Charleston Loophole,” this default proceed allowed the man who killed nine congregants at Emanuel AME Church to purchase the pistol he used, despite being prohibited by law from owning a firearm because of his violent history.
Congress has more concrete, data-driven actions to consider. For example, I have repeatedly voiced my support and cosponsored legislation related to Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), or “red flag laws,” to give law enforcement the ability to act when friends and family report concerns about armed individuals. These measures can save the lives of those in crisis and those around them—as we have seen in states, like Virginia, where they are in place. After the Parkland massacre, we watched a Republican state legislature pass and a Republican governor sign an ERPO measure into law in Florida.
Congress should also enact safe storage laws. In 2020, firearms surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in the United States. Responsible gun storage that prevents children from accessing firearms is vital in preventing unintended shootings, suicides, and intentional violence by minors.
But in the United States, endemic and high-fatality mass shootings are directly tied to unbridled access to assault-style weapons. Both the Uvalde and Buffalo shooters purchased their assault-style rifles at 18 years old.
Americans must be 21 to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed dealer. Yet the minimum federal age to purchase rifles—including semi-automatic, assault-style weapons—is 18. Raising this age to 21 is a first step towards protecting lives.
I also support reinstating the ban on large-capacity magazines. The use of large-capacity magazines in shootings statistically leads to higher fatality rates and the unfortunate reality is that requiring would-be mass murderers to reload saves lives—allowing people to escape and law enforcement to intervene.
As a former federal law enforcement officer, I carried a gun and two extra magazines every day. My mags were stamped with “for law enforcement use only,” because at the time, federal law limited magazine capacity to 10 rounds outside of law enforcement use—and mine held more than 10. That provision was part of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004.
Ultimately, we should move toward reinstating the ban on the manufacturing, sale, and transfer of assault-style weapons. I have twice cosponsored the Assault Weapons Ban, which clearly defines the weapons that would be impacted—firearms manufactured for the quick and efficient massacre of human beings—while exempting more than 2,200 firearms with prominent use for home protection and hunting. When similar provisions were in place under the 1994 ban, mass shootings declined by 37 percent. Once these provisions expired, gun massacres increased by 183 percent.
If we are serious about protecting America’s children—and all Americans—from gun violence, then we need to turn our reactions of horror into action. The problem of gun violence in America is devastatingly pervasive, but we are the country that has demonstrated ingenuity, progress, and strength since our founding. We must rise to the occasion.
U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger is a Democrat representing Virginia’s 7th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a former CIA case officer and former federal agent.