Illegal Weapons

After Policeman’s Death, Can Obama Finally Answer Gun Law Questions?

A cop who guarded you at the debate was shot dead. By Nina E. Gonzalez, who asked Obama about gun laws.

Frank Eltman / AP Photo

Politicians have a knack for dodging tough questions. But rarely do they get to witness the actual perils of doing so.

During the second presidential debate, I asked President Obama how he planned to keep dangerous people from getting their hands on guns. Unfortunately, his answer lacked detailed solutions. I still want to know what the president’s plan is to prevent gun violence—because we can’t afford four more years of just talk. All the while, Officer Arthur Lopez of the Nassau County Police Department stood guard with the Secret Service outside the auditorium at Hofstra University, providing security for the president and all of us inside.

A week later, Lopez was dead at age 29—shot and killed with an illegal gun on the side of a Long Island parkway. As The Daily Beast first reported, the man who recently helped protect two presidential candidates became just the latest victim of illegal gun violence.

The suspect in the shooting, Darrell Fuller, was a felon who had served time for attempted murder. Although felons are federally prohibited from buying firearms, glaring loopholes allow criminals like Fuller to purchase illegal guns without a hitch. (Fuller later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.)

The irony of this tragic story is obvious: while President Obama and our nation’s leaders continue to steer clear of any meaningful discussion on guns, Americans like Officer Lopez are paying the ultimate price every day.

But now that election season has come and gone, I call on President Obama to face this critical issue head-on and put forth a plan to fight gun violence. Absent any action, 48,000 Americans will be murdered with guns during his next four years in the White House.

The prospects for our country’s law-enforcement officials are particularly grim. For the first time in 14 years, more officers are being shot dead in the line of duty than killed in car accidents, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. The death toll has risen during each of the past three years, and Officer Lopez’s murder only serves as further evidence of this disturbing phenomenon.

The root of the problem, however, is no great mystery. Lethal gaps in our current gun laws allow firearms to fall into the wrong hands all too easily. Criminals regularly buy illegal guns online through private, unlicensed dealers, who are not required by law to conduct criminal-background checks. In fact, about 40 percent of guns are sold through these private sellers, according to a Police Foundation study.

As a result, people like Darrell Fuller can obtain anything from a handgun to a semiautomatic assault rifle. No questions asked.

But certainly there are questions worth asking. For example, why does our current system make it so effortless for gun buyers to avoid something as basic as a background check? Why does Congress continue to resist common-sense reforms to our gun laws that most gun owners even support?

A recent survey from Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that 82 percent of gun owners—including 74 percent of NRA members—want to require criminal-background checks for anyone making a firearm purchase.

And yet lawmakers are sitting on their hands as people like Officer Lopez die on our streets.

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I did not know Arthur Lopez. But his death pains me just the same, if only because we now share this eerily tragic connection. He was regarded as someone who lived to serve—the kind of guy who shoveled snow for elderly neighbors and welcomed new people to the community with apple pies he baked. In 2010, the town of Hempstead, N.Y., honored him for his role in saving a man’s life.

“His murderer should hear the screams of his mother to understand what he did today,” said one local Nassau County official. Perhaps the president and other elected officials would be well served to do the same, to see the result of their continued inaction.

I hope President Obama will finally give a substantive response to the question I first asked him during the October debate. But before he does, perhaps he should first answer this: How many more Americans need to die before Washington stops sitting idly by?