Opinion: I’m a lifelong Republican. Let’s change gun laws

Illustration on gun violence in America.

Illustration on gun violence in America.

Donna Grethen

Our federal government has failed to protect the American people from gun violence. After 27 school shootings so far in 2022 and 678 since 2000, lawmakers still sit on the sidelines, paralyzed as more innocent children and citizens are injured or senselessly murdered by people who should never come close to having access to a firearm.

According to The Gun Violence Archive (if mass shootings are defined as four or more people shot), there were 693 mass shooting incidents in the United States during 2021. The number of mass shootings in 2020 was 611 and in 2019 there were 417. This trend is moving in the wrong direction.

A Reuters Report calculates that more than 2,000 Americans have been killed or seriously injured as a result of mass shootings in the United States since 1999. In 2020, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the United States., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you exclude suicides, that number is 20,746.

Since 2018, there have been four mass shootings in Texas, including this latest horrific event. Shockingly, the prior shootings paved the way for the state to allow concealed firearms at churches, K-12 schools and universities and colleges. Last year, the state passed legislation that allows people 21 and over to carry guns legally without training or a license. Long rifles, like the one used in the Uvalde school shooting, can be openly carried in public. These data points debunk the contention made by some that if more citizens were armed, there would be less gun violence because citizens would be able to take matters “into their own hands.” The opposite appears to be true in Texas.

In Connecticut, despite some of the most stringent gun laws in the United States, there is still room for improvement. For instance, people under 21 are prohibited from purchasing handguns, and all assault weapon purchases are banned regardless of age. However, a CTInsider article states that existing law “still allows 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds to legally purchase and possess many other types of guns, including some semiautomatic rifles and shotguns.” This is a loophole that should be closed swiftly.

On a federal level, why can’t our legislators hammer out sensible laws that can both defend the Second Amendment right to own a firearm legally while closing loopholes that would help prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands. As a Republican, it is clear to me that this legislative inertia lies at the feet of my party in Congress. Their stubborn allegiance to the national gun lobby shapes their inability to take action in the best interests of the American people whose safety is their No. 1 priority. Republicans need to show real leadership on this issue, if they do, there are actionable items that can and should be addressed promptly.

They could begin by passing H.R. 8 in the Senate. This bill, which passed the House in March 2021, would close loopholes on all gun purchases, requiring a background check for all gun sales. This is important and according to the group Everytown For Gun Safety “22 percent of Americans reported that they purchased their most recent gun without any background check”.

Also on the table is H.R. 1446, a bill that would close the “Charleston Loophole” which allows gun sales to proceed without a complete background check after three business days. This bill is linked to the 2015 shooting in South Carolina, where a white supremacist obtained firearms through this loophole and later killed nine people at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

The assault weapons ban of 1994 expired in 2004, and although multiple attempts were made to renew the legislation, none were successful. This should be renewed so as to prevent the sale of assault weapons and large capacity magazines which are often the weapons of choice in mass shootings to the general public.

To reduce the number of firearms on the street, federal, state and local governments should offer tax deductions for those who turn in weapons to local authorities. The governmental bodies could then dispose of all returned firearms, reducing the number of weapons outstanding. Incentivizing the public to turn in weapons at no penalty (especially if they were obtained without proper permits) is a win-win.

All of these measures alone will not eradicate gun violence, but taken together they will provide a framework that will make accessing weapons harder for those who should not have them. Clearly there is a broader component of gun violence connected to mental illness which poses further, more complex problems to remediate. However, progress can be made if there is a will at the federal, state and local level.

In the meantime, we are left to watch helplessly in horror as the steady stream of continual mass shootings and day-to-day gun violence get beamed into our lives with sickening regularity. Like many unresolved issues in Washington, the problems associated with gun violence have become increasingly complicated and at times, seem too daunting to solve. As a lifelong Republican I understand, appreciate and respect my party’s concern for the rights embodied in the Second Amendment. Yet, it is clear to all that gun violence in American needs to be addressed with urgency.

It is my fervent wish that our elected leaders on both sides of the aisle will roll up their sleeves, work together, and the ones with the elephants on their lapels will show some true grit and do the right thing. As the mother of a 10-year-old girl killed in the Uvalde massacre said; “This keeps happening and no one is doing anything about it.”

Dan Quigley is the former chair of the Greenwich Republican Town Committee.