Opinion

Idaho has poor representation in Congress when it comes to gun violence

Gabby Giffords and lawmakers make impassioned plea for stronger gun control

Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in Tucson in 2011, joins California lawmakers in announcing plans to pursue tighter gun control at the California state Capitol on Feb. 4, 2019.
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Former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in Tucson in 2011, joins California lawmakers in announcing plans to pursue tighter gun control at the California state Capitol on Feb. 4, 2019.

With back-to-back mass killings last Saturday and Sunday, there is no telling whether the number of innocents shot dead this year alone will last until this column goes to print. What is clear from the deadly shooting in El Paso is that the root cause is not mental illness, not a domestic dispute, not a disaffected student, not a workplace grudge. America seems to be entering a new phase of gun violence, with the white supremacy movement stoking the fires of hatred that sets off shooters to kill and maim.

Now we are in a territory where the internet rage of the white supremacy movement and a president who foments that rage meet up, with crazed shooters using high-powered assault rifles with magazines of 100 rounds of ammunition.

There is only one name for what happened in El Paso and it is domestic terrorism: the targeted murder of Latinos, founded on racial and ethnic hatred and emboldened by those who stand by and say or do nothing to prevent it. Republican politicians, in particular, simply refuse to take on the white supremacy movement.

Just as the nation united in its resolve to fight international terrorism after 9/11, this nation must now resolve to take our nation back from the few who are out to destroy it. We must address the availability of these high-powered assault weapons that have no useful purpose but to kill large numbers of prey in the blink of an eye. There is absolutely no reason the Congress of the United States cannot distinguish between firearms for hunting and self-protection, and killing machines that have no place on the streets of America.

The first step to stemming the tide of assault weapons is the background check on individuals seeking to purchase weapons of any kind. At the very least, can we not keep these killing machines out of the hands of people with criminal records or a history of mental illness?

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation – the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019 – extending the waiting period on individuals seeking to purchase firearms from three days to 20. Under current law, if the FBI could not get to a background review in three days, the gun buyer could go back to the store on the fourth day and purchase the gun without a check.

That loophole allowed Dylann S. Roof – the man who walked into the historically black church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015 and killed nine of its members – to purchase a .45-caliber handgun even though he had previously admitted to drug possession, which should have barred him from obtaining the weapon. With the closure of the three-day loophole, the FBI would have more time for background checks.

A second measure that passed the House earlier this year – the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 – addressed another loophole. Under current federal law, background checks are required when licensed gun dealers sell weapons; according to a report in The New York Times, the federal background check system last year prevented 88,000 gun sales to prohibited buyers, including criminals and domestic abusers.

Unfortunately, those same prohibited buyers may make purchases at gun shows or online without a background check. This legislation would extend the background check to such purchases. For those legislators who claim background checks don’t work, here’s the perfect vote with enforcement provisions to make them work.

Idahoans – and all Americans, for that matter – have spoken on the issue of background checks, and they differ substantially with the Idaho congressional delegation. A survey last year, commissioned by Zions Bank for its Idaho Politics Weekly and conducted by the Utah polling firm of Dan Jones and Associates, found that 63% of Idaho men support increased background checks and 78% of women favor them. The same poll found that 65% of Republicans supported background checks.

With so many Idahoans in favor of background checks, surely Idaho’s congressional delegation must support some form of a background check law. Whoa, not so fast.

Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson take stands on their websites against any legislation that requires a waiting period to purchase a firearm. Simpson actually blames gun violence on illegal firearms trafficking on his website, but both he and Rep. Russ Fulcher voted against the background check legislation that passed the House this year. One of those bills dealt with firearms trafficking. If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ever allows these bills to be called in the Senate, there is nothing in Crapo’s or Sen. Jim Risch’s voting records or public statements that suggest they would support them.

At what point do Idaho’s public officials realize the gulf between their votes and the wishes of the Idaho electorate? How many more innocent people have to die before they come to their senses and join those in Congress who wish to tighten our gun laws, especially when it comes to background checks?

Edmund Burke, the Anglo-Irish statesman and political theorist, summed it up with his famous quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Evil triumphed in Dayton and El Paso last week, and the good men of Idaho who represent us in Washington did nothing. Let’s hope they will see the light and address gun violence. Apparently, that will happen only when we take stock of our own roles as citizens, and register loudly and clearly our discontent with the error of their ways.

Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Readers Corner on Boise State Public Radio and is a member of the Statesman Editorial Board.

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