As of Aug. 4, we have had more mass shootings in 2019 than we have had calendar days: 251 shootings in 216 days, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

We suffer approximately 40,000 gun deaths per year in the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s count. Our gun homicide rate is an astonishing 25.2 times higher than any other high-income country, according to Johns Hopkins Gun Violence Research Center, and shamefully gun violence is the second leading cause of death for children and adolescents — the first for black children. Moreover, we have now killed more people with guns in this country than have died in all the wars we have ever fought.

These statistics are shocking, and the issue is complex, but underlying it all is this fact: We have easy access to terribly destructive weapons by people who should not have them. You should not be allowed to purchase a gun from anywhere, or anyone, unless you have been vetted by law enforcement, shown to be eligible to safely own one and have a permit to do so. Far too many guns are acquired without any background check through private sales, at gun shows or on the internet, and preventing this is the starting point for efforts to reduce gun crime.

Too often other considerations are entered into the mix that only serve to confuse the issue. Certainly the culture at large is a contributor to the present crisis. The spread of hateful ideology on the internet makes it more likely that a violent, resentful person may act out, and it warrants our attention. But there will always be people who feel marginalized and angry for any number of reasons, and as of now, it is far too easy for them to arm themselves.

We hear reflexive comments about mentally disturbed persons, but in reality, only about 4% of violent crime is committed because of severe mental illness, according to Duke University professor Jeffrey Swanson. By far the best predictor of gun offenses is a history of violent behavior, even misdemeanor convictions.

Mental health care is not adequate in the U.S., and it should be improved. But when raised over the issue of gun violence, it is often used as a dodge to avoid hard political choices, and we should see it for what it is.

We are told that gun safety measures won’t work and that criminals will always find a way to get a gun. No law is completely effective. Think of restrictions on drunk driving. But as it currently stands, far too often we are just handing firearms to dangerous persons, no questions asked.

With the laws that we do currently have in some states, background checks alone have prevented 3.5 million illegal gun sales in the past 25 years, according to the Everytown advocacy group, and study after study has shown that background check legislation, red-flag laws, conceal-carry requirements and safe storage laws have all proven effective in reducing gun homicide and suicide to a significant degree, especially when used together. The most recent study documenting this was conducted by Boston University, as reported in USA TODAY on Aug. 6.

We have a constitutional right to own a gun in the United States. But the Supreme Court in 2008, in an opinion affirming that right, also stated that nothing in the opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding restrictions on ownership, carriage in sensitive places or qualifications on the sale of arms. We have had restrictions on gun ownership as long as we have had a nation.

We are now living with a public health crisis surrounding gun violence, and we have proven measures available to alleviate it. It is well past time to act. No one wants to live like this.

Please contact Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith. They are gun-sense advocates but need your support in pressuring the U.S. Senate to hear the updated background check bill already passed by the U.S. House and the red-flag bill.

John Barden has lived in Prior Lake with his wife for the last 20 of the 37 years he has been a resident of Minnesota. He’s a retired airline pilot, gun owner and gun violence survivor.

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