Joan A. Peterson is co-president of the Northland Chapter of the Brady Campaign, a board member of the Brady Campaign/Center to Prevent Gun Violence, board chair of Protect Minnesota (a group working to end gun violence), and a board member of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Program in Duluth, Minnesota. She also writes a blog that can be found at

32 Homicides a Day

My Sister Was One of Them

March 2013

The massacre of 20 young children at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 tipped the scales in our country in a way that no other mass shooting has done.

In America, we have more mass shootings and more every-day shootings than any other democratized country not at war. This fact is known by way too many people who have suffered the devastation to their families and communities from the 32 gun homicides a day.

I know this from personal experience because my sister was shot to death 20 years ago over a contentious divorce. Never in a million years did I believe anything like that could happen in my family. I don’t want more families to experience the devastation that comes with senseless shootings in our communities. I know that we can pass measures to save lives and reduce and prevent gun violence.

Nothing will stop all shootings but that doesn’t mean we should do nothing. Doing nothing is not an option. The American public has said in poll after poll that they want reasonable gun laws. 90% of Americans want background checks on all gun sales. Republican pollster Frank Luntz has twice polled gun owners and NRA members with the same result. 75% of NRA members want background checks on all gun sales.

Universal background checks should be the same for all gun sales. So, right now, when someone wants to buy a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer, a background check through the FBI’s National Instant Check System (NICS) is required. This takes only minutes.

But private sellers of guns in many U.S. states are not required to contact the NICS when they sell a gun. Private sellers have been involved in selling their guns at gun shows, flea markets, over the internet and in homes and other venues. At gun shows, some private sellers are selling the very same guns as a licensed dealer in the next aisle but without the requirement to do a background check. Does this make sense? I say no.

The seller has no idea to whom he or she is selling a gun. It could be a felon. It could be a domestic abuser. It could be an adjudicated mentally ill person or any other prohibited person who would be stopped from buying a gun by a licensed dealer.

Almost two million of these prohibited purchasers have been stopped at the point of sale since the Brady law was enacted. I don’t believe anyone wants a prohibited purchaser to slip through the cracks and get a gun that could be used to massacre little children or moviegoers.

The gun rights lobbyists would like us to believe that extending the very same system now required for licensed dealers to private sellers would lead to registration and even confiscation of guns. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no registration of guns under the current system and there will be none under an expanded system. The checks would be the same; they would be on everyone rather than on just some gun buyers.

Right now, about 40% of gun sales go without background checks. We can liken this to airport security, which since 9/11 has required 100% of travelers to be screened carefully for weapons, sharp objects, liquids or anything deemed to be a threat to the safety of the flying public. What if we only screened 60% of passengers? We are taking chances with the lives of our loved ones if we don’t make sure everyone is treated the same way and has a background check when buying a gun.

In one recent poll in my home state of Minnesota, 75% supported universal background checks, and 60% supported an assault weapons ban and ban on high capacity magazines. The public has spoken. The issue of gun violence is a complicated issue that has many facets to it and the solutions will also be complicated. We must address all of the issues involved. Doing nothing about the guns would simply be abrogating our responsibility to our children and our communities.

According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (, U.S. states with stronger gun laws in general have fewer gun deaths. Why would we not want to do something that we know works?

It’s time to do better than what we are now doing because it is just not working. Passing reasonable gun laws does not infringe on rights and the 2nd Amendment can co-exist with reasonable gun laws.

The time is now to make changes and save lives. The public is expecting our leaders to lead on this issue. It would be absurd if legislators stand with the minority represented by the gun rights lobbyists, rather than victims and the majority.

Joan Peterson can be reached at . Comments about this article can be sent to .


One person commented on "32 Homicides a Day"
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  • LaTonya Boyd says:

    What about the 2nd amendment to those who are shot and killed? What about the 2nd amendment to those who are victims of gun violence? My 21 yr old daughter was murdered in 2009 by the father of her children. In a state where domestic violence is a high rate just as gun deaths

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