The loss of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan has reached 4,000 in the past five years.
Over the same timespan, almost 10 times that number of Americans, many of them young people brimming with the promise of a brighter tomorrow, have senselessly lost their lives on our city streets, in homes and in neighboring communities from handguns, semiautomatics and other firearms.
Even more startling: For every homicide by firearms, four other Americans are wounded seriously enough to require treatment in emergency rooms. That equals tens of thousands of near-homicides. In most instances it is just a matter of poor aim and happenstance.
Behind the statistics are heart-wrenching stories. In my hometown of Philadelphia, recent news accounts tell of Antoine Rosenbaum, shot in the back at 23 and paralyzed from the chest down in 2006. He survives, struggling every day, courageously, with the help of his young wife, with questions about mobility, medical bills and his future.
Then just last month, a teenager tossing snowballs was shot and killed on his 16th birthday by an irate neighbor.
In many societies, when disagreements spiral, people resort to fists or other non-lethal means because guns are outlawed and difficult to obtain. In American society too many people reach for a gun to resolve disputes.
Our cities, states and the Congress are grappling with this problem of too many guns, too many killings by trying to legally regulate, limit and even ban handguns. With the rise of deaths due to these types of weapons — which serve no legitimate purpose — the momentum is building; be it ever so slowly.
On March 18, a case will be argued before the United States Supreme Court – Heller v. the District of Columbia – that could kill even this modest momentum.
At issue is Washington D.C.'s law that bans handguns. An appeals court has ruled it unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. This is the first time that the Supreme Court has revisited the Second Amendment since 1939, when it upheld Congress's right to legislate about guns. Since then the Congress has passed, and Presidents have signed, numerous laws that regulate sales, shipment, use and concealment of all kinds of firearms and ammunition. Cities and states have approved and enforced additional regulations.
I have joined with other members of Congress in an amicus brief that urges the Supreme Court to uphold the District's law and reverse the Appeals court. Such a ruling by the high court would be in line with settled precedent, and it would permit the District as well as the Congress and municipalities nationwide to continue reasonable regulation and control of such weapons.
Our brief argues for understanding what the Second Amendment says – and what it doesn't say. Our founding document ties the right to bear arms directly to maintaining a "well regulated militia" – not to unfettered and unregulated ownership of hand guns.
The brief asserts that since the 1939 Miller case, "Congress has legislated actively to regulate or prohibit the use or possession of certain weapons – mindful of any limitations imposed by the Second Amendment."
Ours is not the only brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold regulation of handguns and other firearms. Mayors, historians, advocacy groups, legal scholars, even former attorneys general and other high ranking Justice Department officials have presented equally compelling legal arguments.
As anticipated, powerful special interests are advocating for a broad interpretation that would allow for unrestricted gun ownership. That is an old story, and it has had tragic consequences across our land.
Gun violence, and the proliferation of handguns, is tearing apart our cities, our families, and our national sense of security. Heller places us at the crossroads. The Supreme Court, when it issues its decision later this spring, can be right on the law and right on ensuring that our streets, our homes and our neighborhoods are safer.
Chaka Fattah is a Democratic Representative from Pennsylvania