It’s Well Past Time: The Imperative Need to Address Gun Violence

| Present

Orlando, June 12, 2016… As I was preparing this blog post, we experienced the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Once again, we mourn, try to make sense of the senseless, debate and, hopefully, come together in solidarity.

But we must face facts: violence in the US, especially violence involving firearms, is a serious problem, and has been for decades. Are we as a nation truly interested in life, liberty and family values? Are we finally ready to put our energy, money, votes and goals where our principles supposedly are? Or will we continue to rest in the status quo, fret and spin our wheels while more people die?

Contrary to the situation in other advanced nations, many influential Americans have clung tenaciously to the right to bear arms and the Second Amendment of our Constitution. Contrary to diatribes by the right, the Second Amendment is not the issue: the issue is the illogically extreme “worship” of our right to bear arms in the face of overwhelming, unrelenting loss of life, injury and heartache for millions of children, women and men.

More than 25 years ago, Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith’s 1991 book, Deadly Consequences: How Violence Is Destroying Our Teenage Population and a Plan to Begin Solving the Problem, “was the first to present violence from a public health perspective to a mass audience.”  Her work, and her positions as the first woman Commissioner of Public Health in Massachusetts, Professor of Public Health Practice at the Harvard School of Public Health, and now Dean and Professor of Medicine for the College of Medicine at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, have had great influence on how to address violence in our society. But it is tragic and incredible that the carnage has only increased in the 25 years since the publication of Deadly Consequences. In 2016 alone, there have been 176 mass shootings in our nation…

In an article published online on October 2, 2015, author Katie Leach-Kemon stated, “Compared to other countries with similar levels of development or socioeconomic status, the United States has exceptional homicide rates, and it’s driven by gun violence.”

She cited the following statistics of firearm deaths per 100,000 people:

Belgium: 0.52

Denmark: 0.22

Germany: 0.15

Norway: 0.23

Portugal: 0.66

Sweden: 0.4

Switzerland: 0.18

The Netherlands: 0.26

United States: 3.55

The National Rifle Association and its supporters argue that low gun violence rates in other countries come at too great a price to liberty. But this viewpoint, I would argue, is deliberately deceptive. Most of our peer nations, by many measures as we have noted in previous posts, enjoy greater personal and social safety and security than we do with virtually no loss of freedoms. Leach-Kemon points out that Switzerland, for instance, has strict gun regulations but widespread gun ownership.

Prothrow-Stith and Leach-Kemon both make the vitally important point that research is critical in dealing with violence from the perspective of the common good. Leach-Kemon cites the case of Cali, Colombia, where the use of data prompted lawmakers to take a number of steps to stem homicide by guns. Risk factors were identified and addressed, including limiting the hours alcohol could be sold, imposing curfews for individuals under 18 on the weekends, and imposing short-term gun bans on select weekends and election days when homicides were most likely to occur. The result: the homicide rate has declined significantly between 1993 and 2015. Whose freedoms were impinged upon?…

In addition, we are not dealing only with homicide. Leach-Kemon found that the US has much higher rates of unintentional death from firearms compared to other countries. Having a gun in the home can lead (and has in tragic situations led) to 1) a child finding and misusing the gun; 2) someone with mental instability getting hold of and misusing the gun; and 3) a false sense of security and/or a tragic accidental shooting due to panic.

More statistics and facts are staggering:

  • On any given day in 2015, 36 Americans were killed by guns.
  • From 2005 to 2015, 71 Americans were killed by terrorist attacks on US soil. In contrast, 301,797 were killed by gun violence during the same period.
  • All but one major American city has had a mass shooting since 2013, with Austin, Texas as the lone exception.
  • Although mass shootings demand nonstop coverage, it’s the shootings taking place in parking lots, bars, schools, bedrooms, and street corners across America that are responsible for most gun injuries and deaths.
  • While motor vehicles have been getting progressively safer, guns have killed people at a consistent clip over the past 15 years. Why? In large part because of research and activism on behalf of the common good.
  • 2015 “saw a backlash against politicians who offer ‘thought and prayers’ after mass shootings but no legislative action. Left-leaning reporters noticed that the same lawmakers who only offered empty platitudes were highly rated by the NRA. On the evening of the San Bernardino shooting, Igor Volsky, a contributing editor at ThinkProgress, began Twitter-shaming them. One by one, he replied to three dozen Republican legislators’ ‘thoughts and prayers’ tweets with the amount they’d been given by the NRA — a total of $12.5 million.”

Another sickening fact: our Congress has banned federal research funding on gun violence since 1993. And, conveniently forgetting or completely ignorant of Prothrow-Stith’s argument that violence is a public health issue, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, maintained on the Senate floor in 2013, “Gun violence is not a disease. And lawful gun ownership is not a disease. It is a constitutionally protected, individual right.” Legislators argue that taxpayer dollars should not be used for this type of research. But isn’t it taxpayers who are paying the ultimate price for gun violence?…

The false equation by radical gun rights advocates in the US between research on behalf of our public health, sane regulation, the use of data to develop workable strategies, and honoring the sports of hunting and target shooting on the one hand and randomly confiscating people’s firearms and annulling the Second Amendment on the other is not only grossly irresponsible but deadly. As President Obama and Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have pointed out time and again, progressives’ attempts to regulate guns are not threats to the Second Amendment or Americans’ basic rights but rather smart, workable plans to stem the horrible tide of senseless tragedy and loss.

What would the US look like if we truly valued life when it comes to guns and violence? What kinds of logical, rational, workable laws could we agree to that would respect responsible hunters (who are some of the most environmentally conscientious citizens) and greatly reduce the likelihood of people obtaining firearms who shouldn’t have them – or of children finding loaded weapons accidentally?

Let’s face it: in the matter of guns and violence, our Western peers are way ahead of us. They have created peaceful, prosperous, non-violent communities – without sacrificing liberty! Europeans do not need to “pack heat” because their people, for the most part, have what they need, including security. They certainly have some fears – that reality is coming to light now especially in the face of the refugee crisis and the brutality of Islamic and other terrorists – but they face them differently, without resorting to extreme gun ownership.

Do we Americans agree that life is precious? If we do, let us vow to reduce gun violence and to create peaceful communities like those of our peers. We citizens can and must pressure our elected representatives to pass sane legislation on gun control. The evidence shows: it can be done.

Dedicated to the victims, survivors and loved ones of

Orlando, Columbine, Newtown, Virginia Tech, Aurora,

Fort Hood, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, Roseburg, Charleston,

Tucson, Washington Navy Yard,

and the rest…