What We're Missing About Gun Reform | Opinion

More than 40,000 Americans have died from gun violence in the last year. In March, as the season switched to spring, there were at least nine mass shooting events across the country.

All the while, a bill that could save countless lives—and that has the support of up to 97 percent of the American public—languishes in Congress.

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act (H.R. 8), which passed in the House a year ago, would expand federal background checks to unlicensed dealers (such as on the internet marketplace and gun shows) and establish consistent regulations across the country. The fact that this common-sense law hasn't even gotten a vote in the Senate in a full year proves that it's time for a different approach. If we want to make progress toward solving at least one facet of America's enduring gun violence problem, it's time to bring new voices into the fold: gun owners themselves.

As a veteran of four tours in the Marine infantry in Iraq, I know a lot about carrying guns. I've enjoyed shooting since leaving the Marines, and many of my close friends are law-abiding gun owners. I hear from them every day. Republicans claim to represent them, and my own party often hesitates to involve them.

Why place our focus on gun owners? They are not only critical stakeholders in this legislation, but they're already intimately familiar with the background check process. And most importantly, they are the missing piece to the gun reform puzzle. They not only have the power to shape their peers and elected officials' opinions; they have the power to change the trajectory of gun reform in this country.

A recently released 97Percent-Beacon Research poll of 1,000 gun owners across the country found that 86 percent of those polled said they support universal background checks, with 84 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of NRA members surveyed voicing support. While many on the right say their opposition to the bill is because of their gun-owning constituents, the data tells a different story.

Republicans and Democrats alike hold assumptions about how gun owners feel about gun reform, but the truth is that gun owners increasingly don't fit neatly into old stereotypes. A Northeastern University study revealed more than 5 million adults became first-time gun owners between January 2020 and April 2021, compared to 2.4 million adults in 2019. And of those, approximately half were female and nearly half were people of color. As the gun owning community changes, our understanding of what a gun owner believes and wants from lawmakers needs to change too.

Gun owners tell us they are often talked down to by legislators and the media. Gun owners want safety for themselves and their families, just as non-gun owners do. We all share a common goal. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed in the 97Percent-Beacon Research poll, who had become gun owners in the last 10 years, said personal protection was their number-one reason for owning a gun, as did 86 percent of Black gun owners polled and 68 percent of women surveyed.

Despite an overwhelming majority of the gun owners polled saying they support background checks, 48 percent worried that the measure could be "a slippery slope toward the government taking away guns" and 45 percent fear they are "a policy with too many loopholes to be effective." Also, when asked how many of their fellow gun owners support background checks, just 64 percent think other gun owners support them.

Advocates of gun reform legislation
Advocates of gun reform legislation hold a candle light vigil for victims of recent mass shootings. Win McNamee/Getty Images

We need to change how we talk about H.R. 8 and background checks more broadly if we want to overcome this common, yet false, slippery slope narrative. We should tell Americans that 99 percent of them live within 10 miles of a licensed gun dealer who can complete the required background check. And we should explain exactly how the bill's expansion from a three- to 10-day background check waiting period will close a loophole that could have prevented the Charleston church shooting.

The data above proves that the support is there, with certain reservations. We must now respectfully address those reservations while acknowledging that gun owners want the same things we do: safety for ourselves, our families and our communities.

Gun owners can change the trajectory for gun reform in this country. It's time to bring them into the fold, talk with them directly and encourage them to share their perspectives with the country.

This is the momentum we need to push H.R.8 to the Senate floor and to the president's desk.

It's time for a vote. It's time to save lives.

Seth Moulton represents Massachusetts 6th congressional district. He sits on the House Armed Services, Budget, and Transportation and Infrastructure committees. Congressman Moulton served four tours in Iraq as a Marine Corps infantry officer. He serves on the advisory board of 97Percent, a new gun safety organization whose mission is to reduce gun deaths in America by changing the conversation around gun safety.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.