Gun violence in the United States is a public health crisis. In the U.S. in 2010, according the FBI statistics, 274,153 people were victims of gun-based violent crimes: 8,775 murders, 127,521 robberies, 137,857 aggravated assaults. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that of the reported 38,364 suicides in 2010, roughly half of them were by guns. Those statistics do not include unreported gun crime, gun threats, accidental deaths or non-fatal gun incidents. As a nation, in one year, we easily approached 300,000 instances of gun violence.
As a comparison, from 1981 to 1990, 100,777 people died of AIDS in the U.S. In Vietnam, from 1955 to 1975, there were 58,262 U.S. deaths. One year/guns: 300,000. Ten years/AIDS: 100,777. Twenty years/war: 58,262.
I believe the media can do more than it has to shape the national dialogue on this public health crisis. I remember the powerful impact when Life Magazine (June 27, 1969) published the photographs of every U.S. serviceman who died in Vietnam during just one week.
I call on you to publish every act of gun violence committed in your readership area. I believe if people see the unrelenting toll that guns exert on us, we will call for a serious conversation with our elected representatives on how to solve this brutal public health crisis.
In the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings, we collectively renew the discussion about gun control. While I strongly oppose semi-automatic weapons and large ammo clips, I believe the best way to tackle the violence problem is through the identification of those with mental illness and keeping guns out of their hands. I am not necessarily referring to the clinically mentally ill; I include those with identified emotional problems, diagnosis or not.
The following solution will undoubtedly result in rants about medical confidentiality and unnecessary invasion of privacy, but so be it. My suggestion is that there be a national data base of all citizens referred for treatment for emotional illness. The data base would be used in conjunction with the criminal background checks that are currently used for most firearm purchases. What this would require is for every mental health professional to enter into the data base the name of any client referred and treated. The data base would absolutely have to be a secure site, only accessible for the purpose of firearm purchases. I can hear the terror in the screams of mental health advocates already. I am also an advocate for quality, affordable mental health care. I just happen to believe that patient confidentiality can be maintained in this system.
When we examine the mass killings over the years, there is a common link, emotional illness. Whether the poor self-esteem, feelings of helplessness, poor anger control, or just the feeling that the world is out to get you results in the violent and deadly outbursts, we owe it to those with mental illness to keep guns out of their hands. It may just save their life and countless others.
In addition to a national data base that is secure and confidential, we must get serious about making mental health treatment affordable and accessible for everyone. Today that access is limited not just by affordability but also a lack of program funding, ease of referral, and the negative stereotyping of those with mental/emotional illness.
It's time to get serious and start doing something about gun control and mental health care in America. We've had enough momentary discussion after each mass killing. Enough is enough.
Guns, guns, and more guns.
I do not hesitate to lay all of this at the feet of George W. Bush who sat with his bought-and-paid-for thumb up his ass as the Congress refused to extend the assault weapons ban in 2004. The NRA's La Pierre said in 2000 that if Bush were elected the NRA would be working out of the oval office. He got what he paid for. Anyone who hasn't concluded that Bush was the worst American president since Warren Harding should include this lack of leadership on the crucial question of gun policy with ignoring verifiable warning signs of an Al Qaeda attack, his lies resulting in the folly in Iraq and the financial meltdown after his "government is the problem" approach to deregulation of the nation's banking and lending systems. That should ice the cake.
Herbert Hoover is a confirmed statesman by comparison.
I respect the Second Amendment and always have. The decision in District of Columbia v. Heller made perfect historical sense to me having studied the Federalist Papers and examined the Swiss canton defense system that the amendment was either patterned after or at least inspired by. However, tanks, mortars, machine guns, rocket launchers, and yes, military assault weapons were never contemplated by the Founders. It is a disgrace to include weapons that are only designed to kill a lot of people at once, e.g. the street sweeper, in any rhetoric about "gun rights."
In my many years as a lobbyist in New Mexico, first for the district attorneys and subsequently for three attorneys general, I found the NRA representatives at all times and at every juncture to be intractable. Even the simplest things like denying conceal-carry permits to those under domestic violence restraining orders or prohibiting guns on college campuses without a conceal-carry permit (at least suggesting some training and background check) were opposed by NRA lobbyists and supporters in the committee rooms.
All discussions revealed a mindset that any inconvenience (why can't he just put it in the trunk?) was viewed as an infringement on a constitutional right, perhaps even one that was divinely ordained.
I read last night that 40% of the weapons sold in this country are sold without any background check at all. If true, that is a disturbing number. As the president wisely pointed out, nothing will stop once and for all these horrendous acts of mass murder. But as a matter of policy this nation needs to revisit the assault weapons ban and move the Gun Show Background Check Act (S. 35) out of Senate committee.
I would like to see the bought-and-paid-for pro-NRA members of each house look America in the eye as they cast their "nays" on the measure.
Although I am certainly a fuzzy-headed, knee-jerk liberal, I do not want the government to come and get your guns. As stated, I believe and have always believed the Second Amendment means exactly what it says. However, there has to be a limit. Not every inconvenience related to purchasing firearms rises to the level of an infringement on the right guaranteed in the amendment. It's time the NRA and the gun community grew up and realized this is a society, formed for mutual protection and with the stated goal of promoting domestic tranquility.
We all give up some things when we enter into the social contract. That's the bargain we make in living here and living with each other.
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2015 MALCS Summer Institute at University of New Mexico
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