Last Spring a Brigham Young University poll reported 82 percent of Utahns support background checks. In the wake of unrelenting gun violence, you would think our Utah representatives would address this epidemic.
I arrived in Washington, D.C., Monday, hours after the Navy Yard terror. With leaders from other gun violence prevention groups, I met with senators and Congress people to build support for the King-Thompson background check bill. Yet, in spite of majority support, our Utah representatives strongly oppose voting for this bill.
Why? Both Jason Chaffetz and Jim Matheson have expressed to us a mix of distrust in the accuracy of the polls and indifference. While Matheson thinks the bill is "too broad," we believe it is the best way to close the obvious loopholes that allow around 40 percent of gun purchases to go unregulated.
Research in 2011 showed that 73 percent of sellers on KSL.com were willing to sell a firearm to someone who openly admitted they would not pass a background check. KSL has suspended firearm listings, but these have certainly moved to other sites like Armslist.com.
Even with clear proof of alarmingly loose gun transactions in Utah, and polls that show we favor expanded background checks, our representatives are doing nothing. What is going on? I'm sure many of us can intuitively generate some possible answers to that question.
There is a toxic silence among many here. Anyone who has dared speak out knows what I mean. The mere mention of this issue can bring on caustic comments from friends and family. Related to that silence is a lack of awareness.
I've been told many times that guns are like drugs. "People will find a way to get them." It is, of course, silly to assume that we can stop all crime. Still, we have laws to limit crime and to hold criminals responsible. You can't fill a Vicodin prescription online or find a cocaine dealer on Craigslist. Yet anyone can easily purchase an assault style weapon and enough ammunition to mow down innocents at a local shopping mall.
Even survivors of gun violence, like those from Trolley Square, don't speak out. In such a hostile environment, why would they? After the trauma, ongoing physical pain and doctor's visits, why would they step up only to be under fire yet again? We've all heard the yelling and hyperbole about gun rights being threatened. What about the rest of us who feel threatened?
Our representatives hear a lot from their constituents. They especially hear from the very loud, sometimes fanatical ones. They don't hear from conservatives, moderates and religious leaders who support gun violence prevention.
It's not a matter of if another mass shooting happens here, but when. Let's not wait for another tragedy before talking reasonably and getting behind real solutions like the King-Thompson bill.
While in D.C., I met Connecticut representatives who are in the trenches supporting their constituents. I wonder, if our representatives were in that position, would they do the same? Or would they nod their heads, saying, "This is a horrible tragedy," or "Let's look into video games and mental health," and then not follow through.
Universal background checks are a simple, inexpensive way to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands. Ninety-four percent of background checks take less than two minutes and cost a maximum of $15.
Religious leaders, moderates and conservatives in Utah, it's time to speak up and start holding our leaders accountable for finding and supporting solutions to gun violence. This movement is growing steadily and we are not going away.
Miriam Walkingshaw is the executive director of Utah Parents Against Gun Violence.
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