Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe and, most recently – El Paso and Midland-Odessa. Across the nation, city names have become trending hashtags as acts of mass violence have rocked communities and claimed the lives of innocent people.
August was bookended by the two recent shootings in Texas, killing 22 people in El Paso and seven in Midland-Odessa. The immediate outpouring of support was coupled with calls for action to prevent these senseless acts in the future.
The same happened nearly two years ago in the wake of the Sutherland Springs shooting. We quickly learned the shooter had a history of violence and a conviction which should have prevented him from purchasing a firearm. But this information was never uploaded to the criminal background check databases, and as a result he was able to purchase four firearms.
Ten days after the Sutherland Springs shooting, I introduced the bipartisan Fix NICS Act, now law, to fill the gaps in our background check system. It’s led to a roughly 400 percent increase in record submissions from federal agencies and prevents violent criminals from purchasing firearms illegally.
It’s time to once again pass legislation to reduce mass violence in our country.
Recently in the Senate, I introduced the Restoring, Enhancing, Strengthening, and Promoting Our Nation’s Safety Efforts– or RESPONSE – Act. This bill will include a number of provisions to prevent attacks and make our communities safer.
First, this legislation takes aim at unlicensed firearms dealers who are breaking the law. The Midland-Odessa shooter failed a background check when he attempted to buy a firearm from a licensed dealer, but was still able to purchase his weapon from someone who appears to have been manufacturing and selling guns who never registered as a firearms dealer. By not registering, he was able to skirt the background check requirement and sell a weapon to the shooter.
The RESPONSE Act creates nationwide task forces to investigate and prosecute those who are illegally selling firearms and those attempting to buy firearms who provide false statements as part of a background check.
Second, this bill improves the quality and availability of mental health care. We must do more to identify and support vulnerable individuals who could pose a danger to themselves or others. We know the majority of gun deaths are suicides, and while mental illness is not the prevailing cause of mass violence, enhanced mental health resources are critical to saving lives.
The RESPONSE Act expands Assisted Outpatient Treatment Programs, which provide families of individuals with mental illness an opportunity to get treatment for their loved ones in the community, rather than an institution. It also includes measures to expand mental health crisis intervention teams and improve cooperation between mental health providers and law enforcement.
Third, the RESPONSE Act takes steps to increase the safety of our students. I’ve heard from countless parents who are rightfully concerned about sending their children to school amid these attacks. That should never happen. The RESPONSE Act will make schools less vulnerable through promoting best practices and internet safety policies to help schools better identify and assess students whose behavior indicates a threat of violence.
Finally, it’s vital that law enforcement have access to information about potential threats – particularly those made online. This legislation would encourage online platforms to share information with law enforcement concerning acts of mass violence, hate crimes or domestic terrorism. These providers and platforms already have this ability during emergencies and to fight child abuse. This simply expands the scope of information they can share.
I spent time with families and victims in El Paso and Midland-Odessa following the shootings and promised each one of them I would work with my colleagues in the Senate on real solutions.
No person, family or community should endure the heartbreak caused by the recent mass shootings in Texas. It’s time to answer their call for action and pass the RESPONSE Act to keep our communities safe from mass violence.
Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.