This week, we again watched in horror as more images of gun violence flashed across our TV and computer screens.
On Thursday, two people were killed at a movie theater in Lafayette, La. Last week, five service members were killed in Chattanooga, Tenn. And last month, nine parishioners were killed in Charleston, S.C. — solely because of their skin color.
During the first 204 days of 2015, there have been 204 mass shootings: a mass shooting for every day of the year.
These tragedies aren’t isolated incidents or even “accidents” as some have called them — they’re part of a full-blown epidemic.
We cannot let this become the new normal. As we mourn for the lives cut short — for the victims and the loved ones they leave behind — we can’t just sit by and wait for another tragedy to happen again.
We need comprehensive gun safety laws to save lives.
This is where we should start: The federal government should limit the sale of firearms to tightly regulated, licensed dealers. That means closing the “gun show loophole” once and for all, and banning unlicensed private individuals from selling guns.
We should also impose greater restrictions on what, to whom, and where dealers can sell guns. That means banning the sale of assault weapons, increasing inspections, and establishing a national gun registry to help law enforcement track down dangerous criminals. It also means requiring gun owners to secure and safely store all firearms in their homes.
In Maryland, we implemented some of the toughest measures in the nation to crack down on gun violence. The reforms we put in place included required licensing, fingerprinting, background checks, and safety training. We ensured that these requirements applied to all buyers, whether they were acquiring a gun from a dealer, a secondary sale, or as a private gift.
We took action to keep guns off the street and make them less deadly. We banned the sale of assault weapons and limited the size of magazines. And, if a firearm was lost or stolen, we required it to be reported immediately to law enforcement.
Our goal in Maryland, as it should be for the nation, was to reduce mass shootings and keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
This wasn’t easy, and we didn’t get it done on the first try. It took six years — from 2007, when I first supported an assault weapons ban, until 2013 — for us to get this done. I faced strong opposition even from members of my own party. Legislators faced threats from the NRA and saw 2,000 gun-rights advocates flood the halls of the Maryland General Assembly.
The same debate is playing out in Congress today. While the public strongly backs common-sense gun safety reforms, Congress has refused to act on them.
It’s no surprise: With millions of dollars from the gun industry and an astronomical number of lobbyists, the National Rifle Association has been able to silence members of Congress who privately support these reforms. Their fear of retribution has led them to block even the most basic gun safety reforms.
Stopping the preventable deaths of American citizens should not be a partisan issue, or the purview of special interests. These members of Congress need to find the courage to do the right thing, without fear of the NRA’s clout, come next election.
It’s not enough just to “have the conversation.” It’s time for actual leadership and action.
Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, is a Democratic candidate for president.