Like many Americans, I watched in horror as the news rolled in this past weekend about the mass shooting unfolding at a church in Texas. My heart broke at the stories of children and parishioners gunned down in their place of worship. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and dread the loved ones of the victims must feel — from classrooms in Sandy Hook to concerts in Las Vegas, it feels like no place is safe from mass shootings anymore.
And as a Catholic, I did pray for the victims and their families that day. But as a federal legislator, I know our thoughts and prayers are simply not enough.
When tragedy strikes, feeling helpless is understandable. There is little you can do to stop a tornado, a hurricane, or a cancer diagnosis from changing your life in an instant. But gun violence is not an unavoidable fact of life.
We cannot treat Sunday's events as a natural disaster — this tragedy is man-made. We know this because around the world, our peers in government and law enforcement do not pretend to be helpless. Indeed, other civilized countries have done a far better job at reducing gun violence. Offering thoughts and prayers are a valuable way to let loved ones know you care, but no one should offer them at the expense of action.
That's why when Speaker Paul Ryan asked for yet another moment of silence in the U.S. Capitol on Monday, I chose to leave.
I respect my colleagues who participate in moments of silence. I have participated in all of them until now. But based on the increasing number of mass shootings and the inaction of Congress, I have concluded that the best way to honor victims of mass shootings is to try to prevent future mass shootings, not stand and be silent for 60 seconds.
Since I became a member of Congress in 2015, there have been over 1,000 mass shootings in the United States according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, including three of the most deadly in U.S. history.
Since I became a member of Congress in 2015, more than 60,000 people have died from firearms-related deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Since I became a member of Congress in 2015, Congress has not taken a single vote on gun safety legislation.
But since 2015 we did hold a number of 60-second moments of silence — more than 20, actually. And what have those 60 second acts resulted in? Nothing.
I will not simply continue to stand in silence — I don't believe that is the best way to show respect to those we have lost. While there is no single solution to end gun violence in America, we cannot continue to do nothing.
Congress can take meaningful steps to reduce gun deaths by passing commonsense measures, such as banning bump stocks and assault rifles. Legislation to create universal background checks is supported by over 90 percent of Americans. Ninety percent! Congress can pass reasonable gun safety legislation and save lives. We have a duty to the American people to do our job. Now is not the time for silence.
To honor the victims' memory and to do all that we can to prevent this from happening again should be our priority. I care deeply for the victims and loved ones impacted by gun violence, which is exactly why I am using my voice to speak up rather than just standing around silently.
Congressman Ted Lieu is a Democrat representing California's 33rd Congressional District. Elected in 2014, Congressman Lieu serves on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.