Editorial: How to stop the madness of gun violence
In the wake of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last week, here are three facts that should shock America out of its reluctance to take action on gun control: an average of 92 gun-related deaths in America every day; since 1970, more Americans have died from guns than died in all U.S. wars going back to the American Revolution; more preschoolers are shot dead each year (82 in 2013) than police officers are in the line of duty (27 in 2013). Imagine, it’s more dangerous to be a preschooler in this country than a law enforcement officer.
How can that be so? How can we have allowed the gun lobby to have such a strangle hold on America’s common sense?
But we have and they do. One problem, cites Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, is that the gun lobby in this country “has largely blocked research on making guns safer. Between 1973 and 2012, the National Institutes of Health awarded 89 grants for the study of rabies and 212 for cholera — and only three for firearms injuries.”
“Daniel Webster, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University,” Kristof continues, “notes that in 1999, the government listed the gun stores that had sold the most weapons later linked to crimes. The gun store at the top of the list was so embarrassed that it voluntarily took measures to reduce its use by criminals — and the rate at which new guns from the store were diverted to crime dropped 77 percent.
“But in 2003 (under President George W. Bush), Congress barred the government from publishing such information.” Why? Because the gun lobby did not want public awareness of facts to prompt sensible gun regulations.
Kristof cites the polling of public health institutes suggesting there are ample ways to improve gun safety, including majority support for: universal background checks, tighter regulation of gun dealers, safe storage required in homes, and a 10-year prohibition on possessing guns for anyone convicted of domestic violence, assault or similar offenses.”
“We should also be investing in ‘smart gun’ technology, such as weapons that fire only with a PIN or fingerprint. We should adopt micro-stamping that allows a bullet casing to be traced back to a particular gun. We can require liability insurance for guns, as we do for cars … It’s not clear that these steps would have prevented the Oregon shooting,” Kristof writes, “but Professor Webster argues that smarter gun policies could reduce murder rates by up to 50 percent — and that’s thousands of lives a year. Right now, the passivity of politicians is simply enabling shooters.”
And just who are those supporting the gun lobbyists? According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 75 percent of Democrats favor some form of gun control regulations (such as those common-sense measures noted above), while 71 percent of Republicans say gun rights trump gun control limitations. While both Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as well as President Obama, say the madness has to stop and some gun control measures should be found, not a single Republican presidential candidate released a statement following the Oregon shootings in favor of gun control measures or doing anything to change the status quo. Jeb Bush, in particular, was singled out for his response when he dismissed reaction to the latest shooting with the comment, “Look, stuff happens. There’s always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something and it’s not always the right thing to do.”
Curbing gun violence is not always the right thing to do?
It’s that mentality, and the warped perspective that putting more guns in the hands of Americans will make us safer, that has led to the tragedies we, as a nation, witness every few months.
In comments following the shootings, President Obama noted that Americans have become “numb” to gun violence and mass shootings and challenged the American public (after giving up on passing laws through the Republican-controlled Congress) to take action by voting for legislators who will craft new laws: “I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save lives, and to let young people grow up. And that will require a change of politics on this issue. And it will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision. If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.
“And I would particularly ask America’s gun owners — who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt, for sport, for protecting their families — to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.
“And each time this happens I’m going to bring this up. Each time this happens I am going to say that we can actually do something about it, but we’re going to have to change our laws. And this is not something I can do by myself. I’ve got to have a Congress and I’ve got to have state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this.”
In the meantime, Vermonters should join other progressive states on the issue, and again lead the nation in sensible reforms.
— Angelo S. Lynn
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