There is no escaping gun violence in America.
In the sleepy hamlet of Sandy Hook, Connecticut, a disturbed young man needed only five minutes to murder 20 first-graders and six educators. In Philadelphia, this year is on track to end with the city suffering more homicides, most of them perpetrated with a gun, than any other year in the past decade. In rural West Virginia, suicides are on the rise, with the firearm as the common method of choice. In under a week, we’ve seen shootings in Santa Clarita, San Diego and Fresno, California; in Pleasantville, New Jersey; and, just this Monday, in Duncan, Oklahoma.
Whether it be the headline-grabbing mass shootings or the lower profile day-by-day gun homicides and suicides, mass shootings and violent gun crimes are tragic American problems. And while no law can stop all acts of violence, Congress’ total silence in the face of this emergency is unacceptable.
In the wake of the summer shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso and Odessa in Texas, and for the first time since the Newtown massacre in 2012, truly serious discussions began on commonsense, bipartisan measures that could reduce the rate of gun deaths in America. We represented an unlikely trio of senators to be at the center of these deliberations. There aren’t many controversial issues upon which the three of us — a conservative Republican, a progressive Democrat and a conservative Democrat — could find agreement.
Progress in gun talks with Trump
But in August, we began discussions with President Donald Trump, his representatives at the White House and other senators to try to find common ground on the most impactful of all changes to our gun laws: the expansion of background checks to cover gun sales and transfers.
Over the course of the summer and early fall, we made serious and meaningful progress in our talks, including deliberations on a specific framework presented to us by Attorney General William Barr. Each of us could find details of the proposal to fix, but it was a good faith effort to address concerns on both the left and right regarding expanded background checks on commercial transactions.
Quite frankly, the Odessa shooting underscored the urgent need to expand the background checks system. The killer was legally prohibited from buying or possessing a weapon because he had been involuntarily committed for a serious mental illness. But because so many gun transactions now occur where background checks are frequently not required, such as online and at gun shows, the gunman was able to easily obtain the murder weapon without having his prohibited status revealed.
It’s time to act:Gun violence is a health crisis, not a political football.
Every single day, people who are legally prohibited from buying a weapon, including because of felony convictions or violent mental illness, are able to get their hands on a gun due to this unchecked commercial firearms market. While all three of us have different ideas for how far background checks should be expanded, we all agree that the priority must be on making sure that commercial sales include an instant background check.
It shouldn’t matter whether you buy a gun in a store (where a check is required), online or at a gun show (where they frequently aren’t required). If you’re buying a weapon in a commercial transaction, it’s just common sense for the seller to check to make sure you’re not prohibited from owning a firearm.
We nearly had a deal with Trump
This change in law is supported by more than 90% of Americans, including 85% of gun owners and even an overwhelming majority of National Rifle Association members. In Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Connecticut and the rest of America, background checks are not controversial.
More:What Trump and Republicans should learn from Virginia Democrats’ gun safety win over NRA
For the time being, negotiations with the White House on background checks have come to a halt. But we think it’s important to note how far this debate moved over the summer and fall, and how close we were to a bipartisan agreement.
We are ready at a moment’s notice to restart these deliberations, because we remain confident that with the president’s support, a measure to expand background checks to include all commercial gun sales could become law. This measure, once implemented, would undoubtedly make our nation safer and show Americans that even during this heated political moment, Republicans and Democrats can still come together to pass landmark legislation that will save lives.
Chris Murphy is a Democratic senator from Connecticut. Pat Toomey is a Republican senator from Pennsylvania. Joe Manchin is a Democratic senator from West Virginia. Follow them on Twitter: @ChrisMurphyCT, @SenToomey and @Sen_JoeManchin