By Abraham H. Foxman
National Director of the Anti-Defamation League
This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post Blog
Last week in Charleston, we were tragically reminded yet again that domestic extremists pose a serious threat to our society. And the threat they pose is magnified many times over when extremists like self-confessed shooter Dylann Roof have firearms.
Simply put, guns in the hands of extremists - guns in the hands of white supremacists, guns in the hands of bigots - are a clear and present danger. To this danger, we must add the threats posed by other shooters with malice in their hearts and guns in their hands: school shooters, workplace shooters, family and domestic violence shooters, as well as all the others responsible for so many thousands of gun deaths each year in America.
Our nation can no longer afford to ignore this danger. We face serious challenges when it comes to the currents of racism, hatred and prejudice that harm and divide our society, challenges that won't be resolved overnight. But we must also confront and deal urgently with the plague of gun violence.
When it comes to guns, Americans can no longer afford to look the other way, or to shrug and say we are powerless to change the situation. For us at the Anti-Defamation League, we have recognized the danger of the proliferation of guns in our society as long ago as 1967. And in 1971 and again in 1999 we urged new restrictions on gun possession, including the adoption of federal and state initiatives designed to make it more difficult for children and extremists to access guns.
If "now is not the time" was ever a valid argument to avoid discussing the issue of gun violence, its validity has now vanished. Now is the time; now must be the time. We have to find a way. We have no choice.
There are people in this country of common sense and good will who have been trying, against great obstacles, to find ways to deal with the issue of gun violence.
Five years ago, ten major law enforcement agencies stepped forward to create a Partnership. These prominent institutions, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the National Sheriffs' Association, expressed a shared commitment "to address the pervasive nature of gun violence and its horrific impact on communities across America." They argued, accurately, that "the crisis of gun violence in our country necessitates a sustained, coordinated, and collaborative effort involving citizens, elected officials, law enforcement and the entire criminal justice system."
Political leaders from both parties, such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative Nancy Pelosi, have also called for changes in our current system.
In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Charleston, President Obama repeated what he said after 20 children and six educators were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, calling once again for "common-sense gun reforms."
Pointing out, sadly, that this was the 14th time in his presidency that he has addressed the nation after a mass shooting, he said that even if some of the reforms recommended after Newtown would not have prevented the Charleston massacre, "we might still have more Americans with us. We might have stopped one shooter. Some families might still be whole."
In the past, too few of the men and women we count on to lead our nation have answered the call to action issued from these public officials and law enforcement officers. That must change. We no longer have the luxury of inaction, if we ever did. We must join together in a sustained effort.
Addressing gun violence means imposing sensible stricter controls on firearms, such as comprehensive background checks of all purchases of firearms, dangerous weapons and ammunition - including purchases at gun shows - and mandating reasonable waiting periods.
It also means better data collection and research on the causes and prevention of gun violence, and - as leading law enforcement agencies have prescribed - "closing gaps in the current regulatory system, including those that enable felons, minors, persons with mental illness and other prohibited persons to access firearms, and those that allow the trafficking of illegal guns."
These reforms do not need to, and should not, demonize lawful gun owners, nor should they inspire more irresponsible, inaccurate and odious analogies to Nazi Germany or stigmatize those who suffer from mental illness.
The time has come for us to come to grips with this problem. It is not enough to condemn the Charleston shooter and mourn the victims. We owe it to those victims and to ourselves to find a way meaningfully to advance gun violence prevention efforts before there is another tragedy.