Making Our Streets Safer
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Mr. President, our nation reached an important milestone over the past few years. In 2010, according to a recent report by the Violence Policy Center, motor vehicle-related fatalities dropped to their lowest level in decades, a 72% decrease in deaths per miles traveled from 1966 levels. But not all of the report’s findings are encouraging. While our roads have become safer, other aspects of American life have become more dangerous. Over that same period, firearm-related deaths steadily increased around the country. In fact, in 2009, firearm-related fatalities exceeded motor vehicle fatalities in ten states, and current trends indicate that firearm violence statistics are only getting worse. Congress has the ability to protect lives with common sense safety legislation, just as it did with motor vehicle safety measures. But it has recently lacked the will.
In the 1960s, this nation confronted a public health crisis on its streets and highways. Over forty thousand people died from motor vehicle crashes in 1960 alone. A 1999 study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that from 1960 to 1966 this crash death rate ballooned from 49.2 to 55 deaths per billion miles of travel. In response, Congress took action by creating the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which it charged with the responsibility of developing and implementing vehicle-safety initiatives.
In the decades since, the NHTSA has spearheaded numerous efforts that have saved and will continue to save countless lives. Today, we take things like vehicle head rests, energy absorbing steering wheels, shatter-resistant windshields, and seat belts for granted. We expect our roads to have clearly delineated lanes, guardrails, and adequate lighting. But many of these things would not exist if Congress hadn’t taken action to protect the public from the dangers of unregulated motorways.
Just like Congressional action made our roads safer, countless studies have shown that common sense gun safety legislation would protect our homes, our schools, and our families from violence. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2009, guns killed more than thirty thousand Americans and injured over sixty five thousand. But despite these statistics, Congress has done little to address this public health crisis. Today, almost anyone, including convicted felons or the mentally ill, can walk into a gun show and buy a firearm from a private dealer without any background check. Others can walk into a gun shop and walk out with military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, weapons with no sporting purposes.
Legislation has been introduced in this Congress that would address both of these issues and would make our society safer. I am a cosponsor of the Gun Show Background Check Act of 2011 (S.35) and the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Devices Act (S.32), bills that would close this gun show loophole and prevent the sale of military-style ammunition cartridges. Congress should take up and pass these measures. We should act, like we did in the 1960s, to protect American lives with common sense safety legislation. The price of doing nothing is just too high.