How to Keep Guns Out of the Wrong Hands

There are ways we can keep implement smart gun control without infringing on anyone’s constitutional rights.

Protesters stand in front of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's Louisville office. More than 70 percent of respondents in a new poll support the Senate trying again on background checks.

Protesters rally in front of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office.

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Matt Cartwright is a Democratic representative from Pennsylvania.

I was heartbroken, along with the rest of the country, over the shooting of 26 innocent adults and children in Newtown, Conn., last December. In the wake of this tragedy, I've come across some horrifying statistics: Each year, nearly 100,000 Americans are shot, and 32,000 of them die. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that 47 children are shot every day, and eight of them die. As a father, I cannot accept that we will continue to lose eight children a day, every day, to gun violence.

Since the tragedy in Newtown, more than 70 children under the age of 13 have been victims of gun violence. As a lawyer and a congressman, I have a deep reverence for the Constitution and respect the right of citizens to bear arms. Fortunately, there are ways we can keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable without infringing on anyone's constitutional rights. We owe it to these young victims and their parents to take whatever action we can to protect our kids and our rights.

A crucial way to reduce gun violence without impinging on our Second Amendment rights is to expand background checks to everyone purchasing a firearm. This will help ensure that weapons are kept out of the hands of felons and the mentally unstable.

[Read Luke Messer: More Background Checks Are No Answer to Gun Violence]

Requiring universal background checks is a nonrestrictive way to keep our families safe. Currently, 40 percent of firearm purchases originate from private sellers – from gun shows, online or unlicensed firearms dealers – that don't require a background check on buyers.

A convicted felon can buy a rifle from a private seller without undergoing a background check or being entered in the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. An individual suffering from suicidal depression can walk into a gun show and buy a handgun, but may struggle to access mental health services. We in Congress must use the power we have to change this.

Universal background checks are something that lawmakers and citizens across the political spectrum support. A poll released by Republican pollster Frank Luntz in July 2012 revealed that 74 percent of National Rifle Association members and 87 percent of gun owners support a criminal background check for everyone purchasing a firearm. And the vast majority of the public agrees that we must close loopholes that allow dangerous individuals unbridled access to weapons.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

Universal background checks will not prevent anyone from exercising his or her constitutional right to bear arms. If you are legally entitled to purchase a gun, you will still be able to do so. In fact, licensed firearms dealers have been running background checks for years. More than 10 million were run in 2010 alone; 99 percent of the time, the process is a minor formality. For the small number of people who no longer have the right to own a weapon – whether because of their criminal record, mental instability or a history of domestic violence – this small step presents an important barrier. And for their future victims, it might be a lifesaver.

Background checks exist to keep guns out of the wrong hands, not to infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners. Surely, that is a goal we can all support.

Nobody wants a repeat of Newtown, Aurora or Oak Creek. I urge my fellow members of Congress to pass a universal background check agreement that will help keep our schools, offices and playgrounds safe.