A Call for Bipartisan Leadership on Gun Violence

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This is an op-ed written by Columbia, S.C., Mayor Stephen K. Benjamin.

Sweeping change that effectively combats gun violence can only come from a united, bipartisan Congress. (Getty Images)

It is hard to imagine that, in 2015, there were more than 52,606 gun-related incidents in the United States, which resulted in 13,344 deaths and 26,929 injuries. What is more troubling is that 3,390 children under the age of 17 were killed or injured as a result of gun violence. According to the Institute for Southern Studies, in South Carolina, a person is killed by a gun every 14 hours, and there is an aggravated assault with a gun occurring every 90 minutes. South Carolina ranks 4th in the nation for the most women killed by guns and 7th for overall gun related homicides.

There is no reason to be proud of these statistics. Law-abiding gun owners who have legally purchased their guns and have undergone background checks are not the perpetrators of most of these shootings. This surge in gun violence is a result of relaxed gun laws that allow criminals and gang members to freely purchase guns at gun shows, over the internet, and through straw purchasers and unscrupulous gun dealers.

South Carolina cities are on the front lines of the battle that is raging in our nation over what to do about gun violence. Last fall, the nation’s conscience was stunned by a horrific mass shooting that shattered the sanctity of Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. In Columbia, we have convened local community leaders and residents, and our state representatives have been at the forefront of enacting reforms that keep guns away from those convicted of domestic violence. However, federal action is essential for further progress. We need Congress to pass laws that will prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. These laws should require a background check on the sale and transfer of all guns, and stronger penalties for gun dealers and straw purchasers who knowingly buy from and sell to prohibited persons.

We can change the tide in the rise of gun violence in our cities through sensible actions that would make it harder for prohibited people to buy guns. However, it will take bipartisan leadership and commitment from our nation’s leaders, including the presidential candidates from both parties, to pass federal legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. We can and must do more to eliminate gun violence in America’s cities.

About the Author: Stephen Benjamin is the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, and president of the African American Mayors Association.