COMMENTARY: ‘We have to change the course of gun violence’

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School deserved a typical Wednesday: a scramble to finish homework during homeroom, finalizing Valentine’s Day plans and, of course, Snapchats to document the day.

Instead, the Parkland, Florida teens faced a barrage of bullets that left classmates, a beloved coach and athletic director dead. Seventeen people dead — in a school, in a place where they should be safe.

More than 1,000 miles away in Delaware, my stomach churned that America yet again had another tragic mass shooting. The Parkland shooting quickly became one of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history.

Thoughts and prayers for the loved ones lost are necessary, but without action, that sentiment rings hollow. We cannot wait for the next mass shooting or the next news cycle showing a parent burying their child.

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Rep. David Bentz

Twenty students should not be piled into a closet afraid to breathe. Coaches shouldn’t have to shield teens from a line of fire. It’s painful to ask: how many mass shootings need to flash in breaking news alerts before legislators and policymakers wake up?

It’s been said in the aftermath of nearly every mass shooting: enough is enough. We need to break this cycle — now. And I would like Delaware to take the lead, if our counterparts in Congress continue to drag their feet.

This year I joined Gov. John Carney, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and Senate Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry in sponsoring legislation that speaks to a complex aspect of gun safety: mental illness.

House Bill 302, The Beau Biden Gun Violence Prevention Act, would ensure that firearms are not in the hands of people who are not thinking clearly and would give mental health professionals more tools if they believe a patient is a danger to themselves or others. It would take steps to protect due process rights, while preserving the work the state has undertaken to improve mental health care by not creating barriers to treatment to those who are struggling. The ultimate goal is to save lives and get those who are suffering the care they need.

The House passed a very similar version of this bill just a few years ago in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion. I hope that we can once again come together to do what’s right for our neighbors.

Another recent measure for this legislative session, introduced by Rep. Longhurst, would ban bump stocks, the accessory that was used by the gunman in the Las Vegas massacre in October to gun down 58 people and leave more than 500 injured.

These bills build off of the gun safety work the First State has committed to in recent years. Delaware provides data to the National Instant Criminal Background check system, expanded background check requirements for gun purchases to include straw purchases and gun shows, closed the Charleston loophole and protected victims of domestic and intimate partner violence.

When advocates say, “Enough is enough,” and “Not one more,” they are expressing their frustration that this keeps happening and leaders do so little. We should not shy away from these issues. Young people are watching us to see how we handle these tragedies, and I don’t want them to lose faith because we simply refused to act.

We have to change the course of gun violence in our communities, and follow in the footsteps of the Parkland teens. They are calling on the adults — that means us — to do something and to do something now. It’s a powerful moment in student activism that we cannot leave in vain.

By the time my daughter is school-age, I hope that we live in a world where parents don’t have to live in fear that the typical morning kiss goodbye is the last goodbye they will ever say to their children. I hope we live in a world where teachers don’t hear a fire alarm and worry that it might be a gunman’s attempt to draw students into the hallway.

The gun violence prevention work might be ambitious, but it’s by no means impossible. And it shouldn’t be. It just requires us to prioritize human life and safety.

Rep. David Bentz, a Democrat, is chair of the House Health and Human Development Committee and represents the 18th District in Newark, New Castle and Bear.

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