Yesterday (April 16) was the sixth anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre.

As our Senate prepares to debate and vote on a new proposal aimed at reducing gun violence, we must evaluate whether this proposed bill honors the integrity of voters’ call for gun laws that save lives 

Today, the Senate will begin consideration of nine amendments to the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 (S. 649). This underlying bill includes provisions for universal background checks, but political calculations show that it will not pass without some changes.

Of those proposed changes, most common in the media and conversations today is a proposed bipartisan amendment offered by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), which, if approved, would essentially replace the underlying bill.

The Manchin-Toomey amendment, as it is called, requires background checks at gun shows and for internet sales, but not for other private sales.

We thank Senators Manchin and Toomy for their efforts to propose a compromise bill while working in a bipartisan manner. It is not often that we see this type of cooperation across the aisle on Capitol Hill.

However, this amendment fails to go far enough toward achieving legislation that will effectively reduce gun violence.  

Background checks proposed in this amendment are far from universal. The policy approved by the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 2010, entitled Gun Violence and Gospel Values calls for (a) limiting legal personal gun acquisition to one handgun a month; (b) require licensing, registration, and waiting periods to allow comprehensive background checks, and cooling-off periods, for all guns sold; and (c) closing the “gun show loophole” by requiring background checks for all gun buyers.  

The Office of Public Witness is concerned that the weakened background check proposal in the Manchin-Toomy amendment does not adequately address our denominational policy position. Under the proposed bill, private sales of firearms at gun shows and websites require background checks, but other types of sales are not addressed.

Therefore, unregulated sales can occur in homes, on street corners, among friends and family members, in work places, through newspapers, and other means.

Given the highly favorable polling data that indicate that nearly ninety percent of persons in the United States support universal background checks, it is appalling that our political leaders feel that a compromise on this important issue is needed at all.  

Some proposed amendments, however, would strengthen the bill, including one offered by Senator Feinstein (D-CA). Her amendment would ban certain assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, while trying to close some of the loopholes in the now-expired assault weapons ban, which was in effect 1994-2004.

Another amendment, offered by Senators Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Blumenthal (D-CT), is a slimmed down version of Senator Feinstein’s assault weapons ban, and would ban magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition.

To read about all nine of the proposed amendments, see this blog post by the Washington Post. 

All nine amendments, including Manchin-Toomey, will require 60 votes to pass, and the likelihood is very high that the bill will be weakened, not strengthened through the amendment process.

There comes a time, in evaluating a bill, when we have to decide about compromise ― is this the best we can do and should we accept it? This may be the best that Congress thinks it can do, but it is not. Barring major and unexpected amendment votes, this bill will not be the bill the country needs. It is not adequate nor is it just. 

We are calling upon members of the PC(USA) to send a loud message to our Senate that the Manchin-Toomey proposal is not adequate to address the epidemic culture of violence that leads to more than 30,000 gun deaths per year in the United States.  

Yesterday, Director for Public Witness, J. Herbert Nelson said, “My last visit to Virginia Tech was less than two months before the Newtown shooting. I engaged in discussions with three campus ministry groups regarding the then upcoming Presidential election. Before leaving the campus, my wife and I visited the memorial dedicated to the students and faculty members killed in the April 16, 2007, campus shooting. It was a sobering moment. Prayerfully, I thought of the parents, as I remembered the deaths of children who were sent to college for an education, but instead lost their lives in a senseless massacre. Tears came to my eyes as I stood over the memorial space dedicated to Liviu Librescu, a 76-year-old professor who lost his life while barricading the classroom door to save the lives of his students. He survived the Holocaust, but could not escape an angry kid with a gun on a university campus in the United States. The personal stories of tragedy continue for the families of the thirty-three people killed that day, including the family of the gunman. There are no words to fill the void or heal the pain that the families of these persons and others feel.

“Even now the killing continues. Over 30,000 persons are killed by guns each year in the United States. Since the Newtown shooting in December, 2012, over 3,000 persons have been killed in the United States due to guns. Our culture of violence permeates every facet of our society. Despite these gun deaths our political leaders choose to water down legislation, catering to the perceived power of pro-gun lobbyists, including the National Rifle Association. We need common sense gun laws in this nation. We need courageous political leaders. It is time that we begin to hold these elected officials accountable for the promises they make to serve the best interest of the country.  

“I encourage you to write, call, email, tweet and/or text your Senators and tell them to pass strong legislation that will include 1) truly universal background checks, 2) stiffer federal gun trafficking laws and 3) a ban on assault weapons.”

Click here to write them now.