Monday, February 26, 2018

America's gun problem: Can it be solved?

Student protests—teenagers demanding their right to attend school without the fear of being gunned down by some lunatic with an assault rifle—have been ongoing since the February 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died and 14 others were injured. It’s been riveting and inspiring watching these passionate, young people stand up to pro-gun legislators, rabid Second Amendment-rights groups, and the NRA, saying, “Enough is enough.”

While I have no use for guns, nor do I own one, nor can I ever imagine purchasing one (but, I never say never), I believe people have the right to own guns for self-protection and rifles for hunting. However, military-grade weapons and automatic or semi-automatic weapons should only be available to the military, maybe the police; certainly, not civilians.

Parkland's was the eighteenth school shooting of 2018, though the number is up for debate depending on how a school shooting is counted and defined. It's not only school shootings that should concern us, but also the number of gun deaths—homicides, suicides, accidents—and injuries that happen across America every day. Something must be done. 

We have a problem no other developed country has: 30,000 gun-related deaths per year. None come close. We have a massive number of guns in this country, largely concentrated in a small portion of the population.

Here are some stats:
  • 30% of the US population owns guns;
  • 3% of the US population owns 50% of those guns;
  • The US has 10 x the gun-related deaths of other advanced countries;
  • Gun deaths in the US are 40 x greater than in Great Britain but we don’t have 40 x the mental health issues;
  • US states with the highest rates of gun ownership, generally have higher rates of gun deaths;
  • US states with the lowest rates of gun ownership, generally have lower rates of gun deaths.

Below, Fareed Zakaria talks about the massive number of guns in our country. It's a brief segment worth watching.

The proclamation (repeated on the right) that there is nothing we can do to stop these incidents is bull. I get it, some people don’t want to jump through hoops to purchase guns. However, we should always make it more difficult for bad guys to obtain a gun. And yes, that may inconvenience good guys a little bit. So what?

If I hear one more person refer to gun violence in Chicago as proof that strict gun laws are useless, my head will explode. Here’s a little geography lesson. What state is located just east of Illinois? Right, Indiana, which has some of the weakest gun laws in the country. No matter how strict gun laws may be in one state, there will be gun-related problems if it is in close proximity to one with weak gun laws.  

There are also too many accidental shooting deaths, especially involving children. I don’t have kids, but if I did, and one of their friends got a hold of a gun because that child’s parents were careless about securing it and they injured or killed my child, those parents would regret the day they ever heard my name. Adults need to be held responsible for these tragedies, even if it’s their own kid who ends up being the victim. Until adults are held more accountable, these tragic situations will continue, and these are totally avoidable situations. Imagine being a child who killed someone else.

And while people with mental health issues should not have access to guns, they are more likely to be victims of violence than those instigating it. We should not only prevent them from possessing guns but also those with a history of violence, domestic violence included.

Lastly, we should never turn our schools into prisons. Who wants to go to school with armed guards and metal detectors? Teachers should not be armed. Many school systems can’t afford supplies for their classrooms (teachers oftentimes pay for these items themselves), but we’ll pay to arm and train them? Teachers should not be expected to take on that responsibility. That’s not their job. They certainly do not get paid enough to do it. The NRA loves the idea though: more guns equal more money for the gun industry.

So what can be done? Here are a few ideas:
  • Close the gun show loophole. Friends and family members purchasing guns from each other must also go through background checks and licensing.
  • Enact two-week waiting periods. This is a precautionary measure, especially if someone is suicidal or bent on murdering someone who has upset them. A cooling down period is reasonable.
  • Educate citizens to recognize the signs of violence or unusual behavior in loved ones, friends, and neighbors. If something seems off, report it. This can be tricky, and one must be careful not to abuse the reporting process, but most of us know when someone close to us is struggling or their behavior has changed. Ensure our healthcare system is capable of treating those suffering a mental illness, anxiety, anger, and depression.
  • Ban assault weapons, bump stocks, and high-capacity magazines. No civilian purchases of semi-automatic, automatic, or military-grade weapons are permitted.
  • Allow doctors to report gun-related injuries and the CDC to compile data about these incidents so we have a clearer picture of what is happening around gun injuries and deaths. The agency was effectively barred from studying gun violence as a public-health issue in 1996 by a statutory provision known as the Dickey amendment. (Click on: Why Can’t the U.S Treat Gun Violence as a Public-Health Problem? below for more information.)
  • Place terrorists’ names on a no-buy list. They are no-fly lists. 
  • Organize a buy-back program. The number of guns in this country needs to be reduced. More guns equal more gun violence. That’s a fact.

These kids protesting out in the streets are the leaders we need in this fight. Their lives have been turned upside down. They watched their classmates be gunned down and some died. It’s their young lives being extinguished. It’s their future; they want to live it and grow old. 

Marches are planned in D.C. and around the country on March 24. I’ll be marching in New York City that day. These young people are right: Enough is enough.

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