Sunday night started out as a beautiful evening in Las Vegas, with country music in the air and the lights of the Strip mingling with stars. At least 59 people lost their lives at such a uniquely American scene, and more than 500 were injured. Thousands more will fight emotional scars, and tens of thousands will grieve and question along with them. The phenomenon of the mass shooting — and the political paralysis that follows us — is sadly also a uniquely American scene.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun than people in other developed nations. Over 100,000 people are shot each year, 33,000 of those fatally. We can offer thoughts and prayers and move on through life numb to these losses. We can accept this galling reality. We can assume that other people — like my wife, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — will pay the price for our status quo. We can accept the enormous social, moral and economic cost imposed on this country by accepting gun violence as simply the cost of living in America.
Or we can choose courage instead of cowardice. I flew combat missions in Operation Desert Storm, orbited the Earth 854 times as a NASA astronaut and wake up every morning next to Gabby, the toughest human I’ve ever met. I choose courage every time. So what do we do?
First, we have to recognize just how entrenched the problem is. In the last few weeks, Congress was actually pursuing looser gun laws — making silencers easier to buy. There’s no reason to make gun laws less restrictive. Gabby and I, and Americans across the country, had been working our hearts out to stop this bad legislation. We can’t go backward on gun laws.
But even on our toughest days, we’re optimists. And if we want to make our country safer, we can’t just work to defeat bad legislation like federally mandated concealed carry and the deregulation of silencers. We also need to push for solutions, to pass good legislation that keeps extremely deadly weapons out of the wrong hands.
That means we need to demand leadership from the people who are elected to lead.
Americans need more than President Trump’s prayers — we need his plans. We need a Congress that will stand up to the special interests, look at the research and act to save lives. Public safety must be our top priority. Predictable as clockwork, though, the refrain we all know came immediately on Monday: It’s too soon. It’s not the right time to talk about politics. It’s what people told me after Gabby was injured, and something I’ve said myself in the past.
Not the right time to talk about politics? Gabby and I have come to reject this. Every day of her life since the shooting, Gabby has honored those hurt and killed alongside her by working to enact policies that will prevent others from experiencing this terrible pain. Don’t let anyone tell you not to talk about politics when we talk about guns. Gabby got into politics because she wanted to govern. The people we elect can take us backward, condemning us to many more days when we wake up to more carnage and more lives lost — or if we make them, they will take us forward, toward a safer country.
No one gun law will prevent every shooting, but we know that these policies will work to reduce gun violence and save lives. We can’t only react to the horror of what unfolded in Las Vegas; we must work to make all American communities safer from gun violence. Here are a few things our leaders can and should do today that will keep America safer:
• Pass universal background checks to make sure everyone gets a background check before they obtain a gun. The studies are clear: Where these laws are passed, fewer people get shot. Where they have been repealed, murder and violence have increased. And background checks aren’t controversial: A recent poll found that 94 percent of Americans support requiring background checks for all gun buyers, including 93 percent of Republicans.
• Subject the sale of the most lethal weapons to stronger oversight and regulation. You can buy an AR-15 in a parking lot with no background check at all. That’s insane.
• Require guns to be safely secured in the homes of gun owners, so kids can’t get their hands on them.
• Stop domestic abusers from getting guns. Women are too often killed by abusers with firearms. And most mass shootings start as domestic violence incidents.
• Allow restraining orders to stop folks in crisis from accessing firearms, just like we do with domestic abusers.
• Establish a federal firearms trafficking statute to stop the illegal trafficking of guns from states with weak laws to states with strong laws.
• Require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and our public health agencies to invest in preventing gun deaths and injuries — like we do for every other similar cause of death and injury. For 20 years, Congress has effectively banned the study of gun violence because of pressure from the gun lobby.
• And as a first step, Congress should establish a special bipartisan commission to come together around solutions that will save lives. The truth is policy solutions that reduce gun violence are not controversial — they are broadly supported by Democrats, Republicans and gun owners. Now is the time for members of Congress to listen to their constituents.
This could finally be a heroic moment of progress for our elected leaders. But it would mean looking into the face of deep-pocketed special interests and saying: Today, we’re choosing Americans. It means channeling the bravery and determination of first responders in places like Las Vegas, and the bravery and determination of people like Gabby, who fight through the emotional and physical pain of gun violence every day. Thoughts and prayers are important. But thoughts and prayers won’t stop the next shooting. Only courage and leadership will save us.