Some will try to use the assassination of Jo Cox to cast doubt on meaningful gun violence prevention laws, or to try to diminish the urgency and hope the American people have — hope that’s grown after the historic filibuster on the floor of the Senate last week.
Americans expect their leaders to take action in the Senate on Monday evening. I have said before, and I will say again: We all know there is no single solution to our gun violence problem, just as we know Britain’s stronger laws cannot prevent every tragedy. No bill passed will bring back the 49 people who died in Orlando last weekend, or the nine souls taken at their church in Charleston a year ago — or Christina-Taylor, my dear colleague Gabe and the others who died in the parking lot as I lay wounded and bleeding. But we can prevent so many tragedies and save many lives. We must change our gun laws to protect the living as we recommit ourselves to addressing the hatefulness that exists in our country.
The time before I was shot was a time of great political upheaval, just as British politics were in turmoil before Jo Cox’s murder. For her, it was “Brexit,” and the debate over whether Britain should leave the European Union. Here in the United States, I had campaigned for re-election in Arizona through a long hot summer and fall dominated by debate over health care reform and colored by the emergence of the tea party. The glass door of our office in Tucson was smashed in just a few hours after I cast my vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act, and a man brought a gun to one of my town hall meetings. Politics didn’t kill Jo Cox — a deranged man with a gun and a knife did — or injure me, but when some of the great democracies in the world are held hostage to extremist rhetoric and the fear of attacks on individuals, and when sick people have ready access to weaponry, we are all less safe.
Which brings me to Monday’s vote in the Senate. The strong, well-funded gun lobby has ensured decades of inaction — even in 2013, after the murder of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when 54 senators looked into my eyes and the eyes of the parents of the 20 kids who died there and still did nothing. Finally last week, 40 senators, led by Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), finally said, “Enough.” Far into the night as Americans like me watched with hope and pride, they brought the Senate to a halt, telling the stories of those taken by gun violence.
Their insistence on action — fueled by the nearly 90 percent of Americans, including large majorities of Republicans and National Rifle Association members, who support responsible solutions to make us safer — means that later Monday, senators will vote on two bills: one, the Feinstein amendment to close the “terror gap” and give the attorney general the right to prevent known or suspected terrorists from obtaining weapons, and two, the Murphy amendment, which would require criminal background checks for all gun sales. With an untold number of gun sales now going unchecked, that legislation would strengthen our existing background check system and help prevent domestic abusers and felons from buying weapons.
The Senate will also consider two bills by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), which attempt to thread the needle, responding to the overwhelming outcry from their constituents to do something while preserving the approval and support of the corporate gun lobby that will stop at nothing to protect its profits. Those two bills aim to provide a fig leaf, misleading Americans into thinking our opponents are addressing gun violence when they’re not. The Senate should pass the Murphy and Feinstein proposals and reject the Cornyn and Grassley attempts at deception.
Jo Cox and I learned while serving in office the fundamental truth of legislating in complex democracies: It’s hard. It requires patience, tolerance and the will to come together and do what’s right, not what pleases the loudest and angriest people and the Washington lobbyists. Now is not a time for lawmakers to retreat to their ideological corners and do nothing. It’s a time to stand shoulder to shoulder with the American people to make responsible changes that honor our history and our diversity, and make our country a safer place to live.