Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Letter to Congress

The following letter which I share with you was sent at the request of a friend seeking people’s engagement on this issue.  We can, and should, do something.
TO: Senator Richard Burr, Senator Kay Hagan, Representative Mark Meadows
United States Congress, Washington, D.C.

There are many substantive issues facing our great country today.  One of the most vital issues is how our country will respond to its growing problem of violence involving guns.  I am writing to you to solicit your responses, and hopefully your support, regarding what I believe is a reasonable set of legislative changes needed to respond to this distressing problem.

I live in a mountain community in western N.C.  I know all too well and first hand that hunting, and the weapons used in hunting, are a long-standing part of the mountain heritage and culture.  For some, it is a recreational sport.  But for many others in these poorer communities, it is still a necessity for putting needed food on the table for families.  There is no reason that either of these endeavors should be prohibited, or that the culture of responsible gun ownership should be threatened.

But the key to our going forward is “responsible.”  American freedom conveys rights, but also demands responsibility in return.  There are no absolute rights devoid of responsibility.  Every right in our Bill of Rights has limits and conditions attached, yet Americans are still freely able to enjoy the essence of those rights.  That same yardstick of balancing “right and responsibility” is also applicable to our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.

I believe that a fair and comprehensive agenda about gun violence should be passed to reset this balance of gun rights and responsibility.

1.     Require that ALL gun purchasers undergo a background check, with NO exceptions.  (Supported by over 90% of Americans, including NRA members.)

2.     Dramatically raise the penalty for those who buy guns for ineligible buyers (“straw purchasers”) who subvert the background check and disguise the true owner.

3.     Limit bullet cartridges to 10 rounds.  Any hunter who needs more than 10 bullets in one shooting to kill a small animal, deer or bear has no business being in the woods.  S/he is a danger to all.

4.     Double the sentence for guilty persons who use a firearm when committing any crime.  Extend that same penalty to any accomplice of a criminal whether that accomplice was also armed or not.  It is an extension of the capital punishment concept – raise the stake of punishment for violent crimes.  Punishment, and the threat of it, still works.

5.     Require gun locks, and locked cabinets, for all firearms.  Guns owners must also be accountable for ensuring that the public is protected from the unauthorized use of their guns, just as all of us are held responsible for the unintended consequences of our actions.

There are other proposals that I also believe to be worthwhile.  But I recognize that they will likely go nowhere regardless of the current overwhelming public demand for change.  Nevertheless, the above proposals are highly reasonable and supportable by much of the public – including gun owners.  They deserve your positive and open support.

On your websites, each of you is blatantly silent regarding your positions about specific gun legislation.  Senator Hagan states that she “will fight to ensure law-abiding citizens are not restricted in their right to bear arms.”  Senator Burr offers not one single comment about potential gun legislation.  Representative Meadows posted an article announcing his co-sponsorship of a House bill to replenish funds under the Clinton-era Cops in Schools program to hire more police to be assigned directly into the schools.  On an issue this important, this limited (if not avoided) response is not at all sufficient.

Hiding behind the granite walls of the Capitol and the firewall of the Internet is not leadership.  Nor is it responsive to the public trust you were given by ballot.  True leadership requires that you publicly address this issue and speak to the proposals being offered, not offer bland, vague pronouncements or form letter replies.  Your constituents need to know whether you will vote based upon the next election results and political funding, or based upon conscience, national overriding interest and the best balance of rights and responsibilities.  Because the truly overriding Right is my right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  None of which are to be found at the wrong end of a bullet.

Sincerely, Randy Bell
In 1958, John F. Kennedy introduced federal legislation to ban the import and sale of foreign guns made for military use.  The legislation did not pass.  Five years later, Lee Harvey Oswald bought just such a rifle that would have been banned under Kennedy’s legislation.  Oswald bought it through a mail order ad in an NRA magazine.  That November, he then used it to assassinate Kennedy.

On Tuesday, March 12, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send to the full Senate a bill requiring universal background checks for all gun purchasers.  92% of all Americans now favor such a requirement.  All ten Democrats on the committee voted “YES.”  All eight Republicans voted “NO.”  Who is listening to the American people?