Reynolds High School

June 13, 2014

Reynolds High School

On Tuesday, June 10th, Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon was the scene of the tragic murder of 14 year-old Emilio Hoffman who was a freshman, a Junior Varsity soccer player and a volunteer youth soccer coach. A teacher, Todd Rispler, was also wounded, but was still able to sound the alarm that a shooter was in the school.

We’re all immensely grateful to the law enforcement personnel throughout the region and the brave first responders, including school resource officers, whose swift action undoubtedly saved lives. The shooter had another weapon and a significant amount of ammunition which could have resulted in dozens of casualties. Because of the rapid response from school staff and public safety officials, more carnage was averted, but the shooter, also a young student, took his own life.

This scene has become all too familiar across America. It makes your heart ache.

Our first thoughts turn to the family of the victim, the traumatized students, the teachers, and the community as a whole, who’ve only begun to deal with the shock and grief brought about by this horrific episode.

As we have what seem to be weekly observations of moments of silence for the victims of gun violence on the floor of the House of Representatives, we must acknowledge that this latest series of gun-related murders is shredding American’s sense of security.

This was the 74th incident of school gun violence since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, 2012. There, 20 children and 6 adults were slaughtered. Almost uniformly, the news coverage of the subsequent shootings has an undertone of their inevitability. I refuse to accept this mindset. Congress must refuse to accept this violence as inevitable.

There are a variety of concrete steps that Congress can take to treat gun violence like the public health crisis it is. Some of these are areas that command wide support, even from gun owners.

One simple commonsense step that we can take is closing the “gun show loophole” that would require universal background checks before a person could purchase a gun. Right now, in many states, it’s possible for internet users, people at flea markets, and open air gun shows to purchase guns without the appropriate background check. Background checks can successfully keep weapons out of the hands of thousands of people with mental illness problems and criminals.I support legislation that would expand the existing background check system to cover all commercial firearm sales. It would also incentivize states to improve their reporting of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act would place restrictions on the large capacity ammunition magazines. This would be a small step to make it harder for people to go on a mass killing rampage. The assault weapons ban, which has long-ago expired, should be reinstated to prohibit the sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of certain assault weapons.

There are also steps to make sure that the people who are involved in the gun-selling business are required to act responsibly. The Fire Sale Loophole Closing Act would prohibit a gun dealer, whose license is revoked or denied, from converting the gun inventory into a private collection to be sold without background check requirements. There’s also legislation to increase the ability of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to enforce the gun laws.

Congress ought to untie the hands of medical researchers to be able to fully understand the extent of gun violence and explore ways to not just understand it, but potentially prevent these terrible tragedies. I know of no other area of public health research where the experts are prohibited from understanding the problem and exploring ways to help minimize the damage.

Last but not least, there is the need to deal with people with serious mental illness. This is not a substitute for, but instead compliments reasonable gun safety legislation. My friend, Congressman Tim Murphy from Pennsylvania, a psychologist, has developed legislation to prevent the failure of identification and treatment of mentally ill individuals, who make up a disproportionate percentage of people who go on rampages. The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act takes a significant step forward in addressing a system that has proven time and time again to be incapable of treating individuals with severe mental illness. Amongst other things, this bill would train law enforcement and community leaders to recognize mental illness and give them more resources.

Recently my colleague, Congressman Ron Barber, himself a victim of gun violence in the tragic incident in Tucson that included the serious wounding of our former colleague Gabby Giffords, introduced legislation to strengthen the opportunities to help people who are mentally ill. I’m looking forward to working with Congressman Murphy and Congressman Barber to see which of these bills we can either pass as stand-alone legislation, or incorporate into other legislation.

It’s not acceptable to simply stand for a moment of silence as the carnage continues. It’s important that the American public makes their voices heard and that Members of Congress take action to make communities safer. I’ll continue to work for simple, commonsense initiatives to treat the epidemic of gun violence as the public health problem that it is and to advance legislation to increase the capacity to deal with people suffering from mental illness.

I long for the day when it’s no longer routine to stand for a ritual moment of silence, but instead we celebrate our success in preventing these senseless acts.