The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Bob Casey: I changed my stance on guns. I shouldn’t be the only one.

A girl stands next to crosses displayed at a memorial outside Robb Elementary School on May 31 in Uvalde, Tex. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Bob Casey, a Democrat, represents Pennsylvania in the Senate.

I’m a U.S. senator who has done something rare in today’s politics: I’ve changed my position on our nation’s gun laws. After doing so, I didn’t burst into flames or get run out of town. That’s how I know others can choose to do the same.

As a lifelong Pennsylvanian, I have always had an abiding respect for one of the commonwealth’s longest and proudest traditions: top-tier hunting. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians head to the woods to hunt white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and more. The practice is passed down in families from generation to generation.

I came to Washington in 2007 with the firm belief that to support and honor Pennsylvania’s deep-rooted hunting culture meant that I should not support restrictions on gun sales or increased regulations.

Then, in 2012, Sandy Hook happened.

Twenty 6- and 7-year-olds and six educators were killed in their school by a 20-year-old with an assault rifle, just before Christmas.

Opinion: These people did not have to die

I will never forget the shock, horror and grief of learning that 26 families would never see their loved ones again. I was struck by the stark realization that we did not have to live like this. The idea that more than two dozen students and educators could be slaughtered in a matter of minutes because a 20-year-old had virtually unfettered access to weapons of war was too much to bear.

So I changed my position. Now it’s time for many of my colleagues in the Senate to do the same.

Our country cannot continue to surrender to the idea that gun deaths are inevitable or unavoidable.

Opinion: The GOP spin on gun rights is wrong — morally and legally

Too many politicians in Washington will tell you there’s nothing we can do to stop this. They want you to believe that the most powerful nation in the world cannot prevent fourth-graders from being shot in their school, or Black Americans from being gunned down at their neighborhood grocery store. They argue that the gun violence plaguing cities such as Philadelphia simply cannot be solved.

Don’t listen to them.

The idea that we should give up and accept the status quo, or that any challenge is insurmountable, is contrary to the American experience. And while gun violence is not an issue we can solve overnight, there are basic measures we can take to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and criminals.

Opinion: 6 solutions to gun violence that could work

First, we should expand background checks for gun sales and close the loopholes that allow guns to be bought online, at gun shows and through private sales without background checks. This doesn’t mean a father won’t be able to give the gift of a hunting rifle to his son or daughter. But it does mean a person won’t be able to walk into a gun show and buy a gun from a stranger without a background check.

We should also pass “extreme-risk protection” laws to temporarily remove access to firearms from those who might be a risk to themselves or others, while respecting due process. These simple measures would keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous individuals, while having no impact on everyday citizens’ ability to buy or possess firearms.

Opinion: How Florida’s red-flag law helps stop potential mass shootings

We also need to get serious about banning weapons of war in our communities. The manual-action rifles used by generations of Pennsylvania hunters are vastly different from the semiautomatic AR-15-style rifles with high-capacity magazines routinely being used in mass shootings across the country. Those types of weapons were designed to inflict maximum carnage in a war zone. On May 24, they were used to murder 9-, 10- and 11-year-olds at Robb Elementary School in Texas. No parent should ever be unable to identify their children’s bodies because the power of the weapon used against them made them unrecognizable.

These are not radical or new ideas. The overwhelming majority of Americans support common-sense gun-safety laws. There is also historical precedent for limiting civilian access to certain types of weapons.

Since 1934, the United States has heavily regulated the possession and transfer of fully automatic firearms. In 1986, Congress also prohibited the possession of any new fully automatic guns for the civilian market. And, until it was allowed to expire in 2004, the federal assault weapons ban prohibited citizens from purchasing certain semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Data show that these measures worked.

The reforms we need won’t stop law-abiding hunters from teaching their children the skills their parents taught them — but they will save lives. We can preserve hunting culture while keeping weapons of war out of our schools, grocery stores, churches, synagogues and other parts of our communities.

A decade ago, I changed my position because I didn’t want to see Americans dying every day without doing something about it. I shouldn’t be alone. Our children are depending on us. It’s time for the Senate to act.

Loading...