U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

December 10, 2022

It’s Been 10 Years

Dear Fellow Marylanders,

Daniel Barden should be in his junior year of high school right now, perhaps stressed out about his recent PSAT scores but excited about the approaching winter break and holiday season. But that isn’t happening.

Ten years ago, on December 14, 2012, Daniel was a first grader at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., when a gunman shot and killed him and 19 of his classmates, along with six educators.

Last weekend, in Northwest Baltimore, a 19-year-old was killed, and three others injured, including a 15-year-old boy. All were shot. And this Thursday, one 14-year-old shot another 14-year old outside of Suitland High School.

Newtown may be the site of the deadliest K-12 mass shooting in the country, surpassing the unspeakable tragedy at Columbine High School in 1999, but almost every community in this country has been permanently changed by gun violence. It’s happening daily on a scale most of us have trouble envisioning.

There were 44 known mass shootings across the country this November. These are single incidents with four or more victims. In just one month, 53 shooting victims died. You may have seen news reports about the five killed at Club Q in Colorado Springs, the seven killed at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., or the four victims of a murder-suicide in La Plata, Md. Throughout November, more than 185 others were injured. All this was over one 30-day month.

About 4.6 million American children live in a home where at least one gun is kept loaded and unlocked, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Evidence has shown that improperly stored weapons contribute to school shootings, suicides and the deaths of family members, including infants and toddlers.

I want these numbers to sink in. We all need to feel uncomfortable that this is happening in our country. We cannot become numb to the tragedy, no matter how frequently it occurs. Gun violence is a public health epidemic that we cannot avert our eyes and ignore. According to the American Public Health Association, “Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the U.S. Guns kill more than 38,000 people and cause nearly 85,000 injuries each year.” They are the leading cause of death among children and teens.

Not every shooting makes headlines, but the deadly and traumatic results are repeated over and over. No one ever wants to hear the news that their loved one is not coming home.

And we cannot rely on “thoughts and prayers” to end this long, violent run. For too long, this has been the only response from some of my congressional colleagues who would rather do nothing.

I give great credit to the parents of the Sandy Hook victims who, for 10 years, have turned their immense grief and rage into action, pushing for gun control and public safety measures that will make their community and the entire country safer for our children and everyone. The movement snowballed with the national activism of many survivors of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which saw 17 students and staff killed by a lone gunman. Most recently, young survivors of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which took the lives of 19 elementary school students and two educators in May of this year, have joined the public call for an assault weapons ban.

Words do matter, but actions speak volumes. Recently, we made some progress with passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. President Joe Biden signed into law new standards for background checks for gun purchases by those under age 21 and those convicted of domestic violence, as well as additional funding for mental health resources. This was the first major gun safety legislation in almost 30 years – a major accomplishment – but it isn’t enough.

The assault weapons ban, first enacted in 1994, expired in 2004 and has been blocked from being renewed. Gridlock continues despite studies that have shown the number of mass shooting incidents and the severity of those incidents have increased since the ban expired.  

We need to renew the assault weapons ban and prohibit high-capacity magazines. These weapons were made for war zones. They are not the instruments of bona fide sport hunters – only those who hunt human prey. There is no reason they should continue to be sold to civilians. We should also insist on universal background checks for all gun purchases, to keep guns out of the hands of individuals who should never wield one.  

And yes, we need to have a deeper conversation about how to deal with untraceable ghost guns and weapons purchased through illegal means. I can assure you that there is legislation pending in Congress as well as U.S. Justice Department regulations on these and related issues. But we cannot stand idly by because we cannot stop every shooting. If we can save lives by taking the most deadly of weapons out of the hands of the most dangerous and unstable individuals, we should do so without question. The ongoing opposition to these commonsense provisions astounds me, particularly as the number of shootings keeps growing.

Even the Supreme Court has said that the Second Amendment is not absolute. Renewing the ban on assault weapons will not infringe on any family duck-hunting or big game adventures. Regardless, saving lives should be the highest priority.

As we enter into a new, divided Congress, while I understand it is unlikely, my hope is that lawmakers will look into the aching eyes of the parents who have lost children to gun violence and decide they are ready to set partisanship aside to find a real path forward on gun safety. The stakes are far too high. The benefits are immeasurable.

Thank you for your time. Please stay safe. Feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this and any other topic.

Sincerely,

Ben Cardin