Several weeks ago — before the Colorado massacre renewed attention to the easy availability of killing machines in this country — the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence distributed a new statement of purpose to every Senator and member of Congress. It reads as follows:
I believe these people should not be able to buy, own, or carry a gun anywhere in our nation:
• Convicted felons
• Convicted domestic abusers
• People found to be dangerously mentally ill
Guess how many members of Congress have signed it? So far, only 10.
The Brady campaign’s new statement of principle — and the apparent unwillingness of virtually every member of Congress to sign it — both speak to the degree to which the debate over guns has been lost by gun control advocates. They also speak to Congress’s complete abdication of any responsibility on an issue that continues to claim American lives.
Indeed, the statement is an admission that an entirely new approach to the issue is needed. Dan Gross, the president of Brady, tells me his group is trying to reboot the gun argument by building support for basic principles that the public may support — ones that don’t infringe on “gun rights,” a concept the gun lobby has successfully framed the entire argument around. “I acknowledge Brady’s lack of success in engaging the American public,” he said.
Some have argued that stronger gun laws wouldn’t have stopped the Colorado shooting. Interestingly, Gross said Brady is moving away from focusing on whether better laws could have stopped specific shootings — to refocus the debate on the basic principles above.
“Perhaps an assault weapons ban would have stopped the Colorado shooting,” Gross said. “But we have to stop looking at isolated mass tragedies. Before we get to those individual solutions, we should create a table that we can all come to, to answer the question: how can we save the most lives without restricting gun laws?” Hence the above statement.
Gun advocates will argue that thanks to the Brady Law, which requires background checks by licensed dealers, those categories can’t get guns. But Brady has argued that unlicensed dealers continue to sell guns to them without background checks at gun shows, flea markets, and online — and that we need a federal law requiring them.
In the wake of the Colorado shooting, Obama and Mitt Romney have signaled that they support no changes to existing law. As today’s Post editorial notes, lawmakers should be pinned down on whether they support banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
But even that may be too much to ask. It may be hard enough to get lawmakers to take a stand on whether we should do whatever it takes to ensure that guns don’t fall into the hands of felons, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill.
UPDATE: Here are the 10 members of Congress who have signed the statement of principles, according to Brady:
Rep. Jackson Jr.
It’s worth noting that Brady is following up with all members of Congress to ask them again to sign it, so the number could mount.