Last week, a student pulled a pistol from his backpack and opened fire at Saugus High School in nearby Santa Clarita. Immediately, students, many just 14 or 15 years old, knew what they had to do. Some filed out of school with hands on their heads. Others used desks to barricade their classroom doors and made improvised weapons out of fire extinguishers in case the shooter got through. Many texted their parents to let them know they were alive, desperately trading “I love you”s in case these were their final words. In the end, three children, including the shooter, died, and three others were wounded.
This is the new normal in America. In fact, just days after the shooting in Santa Clarita, 10 people were shot at a family party in Fresno, and in Paradise Hills, a family of five, including three children, died as the result of a domestic-violence murder-suicide.
As a psychologist, I know the emotional toll this is taking on the entire community. Children are living with trauma and survivors’ guilt, while their parents fear sending them to school. We must have the mental-health resources available for these children, and that is why I have introduced legislation to help put more psychologists in our schools. But the most important solution is to do everything we can to stop gun violence before more lives are cut short, and more children scarred for years.
It starts with a common-sense solution, and that is ensuring that nobody can buy a gun without a background check. Background checks are effective at keeping lethal weapons out of dangerous hands, which is why universal background checks are supported by 90 percent of Americans. And yet we still do not require them for every gun purchase. That is wrong and dangerous. It doesn’t matter if you’re shopping at a brick-and-mortar store or a gun show, if you want a gun, you must be able to pass a background check.
But requiring background checks isn’t enough. We have to complete the background checks. That’s a problem, because right now, if the check isn’t completed within three days, the purchaser is allowed to buy their gun anyway. This is a fatal loophole that was used by the shooter in the Charleston massacre to purchase a gun before the FBI was able to complete its background check, costing the lives of nine church members, killed while they prayed at a Bible study group.
But even if background checks were done effectively, dangerous people would still be able to buy a firearm thanks to something called the Boyfriend Loophole. It’s a fact that most murdered women are killed by somebody they know, which is why, under current law, somebody convicted of domestic abuse against their spouse is prohibited from buying a gun. But that prohibition doesn’t extend to non-married partners, such as ex-boyfriends or girlfriends, abusive partners or stalkers. They can acquire a gun and make their abuse fatal.
These are known loopholes, and it is our responsibility to close them. In the House of Representatives, we take that responsibility seriously, which is why we made it one of our first priorities to pass necessary legislation to curb gun violence. In February, over nine months ago now, House Democrats passed H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act to require universal background checks. The same day, we passed H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019, which closes the Charleston Loophole. And just two months later, in April, we reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act with a provision that closed the Boyfriend Loophole. But in all those months, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t allowed a vote on any of those bills. The Senate hasn’t even held a hearing.
That inaction is costing lives, plain and simple. But Republicans and their NRA backers have stood in the way of every fix. And so, children and families are left to pick up the pieces.
In Fresno, the family shot last weekend was from the Hmong community, where there is a tradition that those who die pass on without debt, leaving the responsibility instead to the living. Today, that debt is all of ours. Not a financial one, but a moral one. We owe it to those victims to finish the work, to pass the necessary laws that we know could save lives. It’s time to live up to our responsibility, confront the gun-violence crisis in America, and close the loopholes.
Rep. Judy Chu, a Democrat, represents California’s 27th Congressional District, which includes South Pasadena. This article was written exclusively for the Review.