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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Refusal to Address Gun Violence in America


 

After the worst national mass killing in Las Vegas, the debate on gun violence is raging once more. The gun lobby continues to argue that any measure of control infringes on the Second Amendment and the sacred right of Americans to bear arms.

However, there were at least 126 mass shootings between January 2000 and July 2014. In the face of these massacres, proponents of gun control seek new measures to prevent mass shootings. Seeking solutions, they call for smart gun laws, background checks, and more protections against the mentally ill buying guns.

A December 10, 2014 Pew Research Center survey found 52% of Americans believe the right to own guns should be protected while 46% believe gun ownership should be controlled, a switch from 1993 when 34% wanted gun rights protected and 57% wanted gun ownership controlled.

On January 16, 2013, President Obama released his plan to address gun violence titled “Now Is the Time: The President's Plan to Protect Our Children and Our Communities by Reducing Gun Violence.”

The President’s plan included:

1.Closing background check loopholes to keep guns out of dangerous hands;

2.Banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,and taking other common-sense steps to reduce gun violence;

3.Making schools safer; and

4.Increasing access to mental health services

Let's look at what happened to the President's suggestions:

Background Loopholes

Congress had other ideas. A bipartisan amendment to the 2013 gun control bill, sponsored by senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, which would have closed the gun show loophole and instituted background checks for internet sales, but not for sales between individuals outside of commercial venues, was defeated in the upper house by a vote of 54 to 46. Five Democrats voted against the bill. Four Republicans, including former presidential candidate John McCain, voted for it.

So, you can legally also buy a gun from a private party and never have to even show your identification. The “private sale loophole” includes guns bought at gun shows – such as those used in the 1999 massacre at Columbine high school. The New England Journal of Medicine, in a 2010 study, estimated that 40% of gun sales in the US fall into this loophole.

Military-style Assault Weapons

A new assault weapon ban, which would have been stronger than the 1994 ban and include high-capacity magazines, was introduced in the Senate by Dianne Feinstein in January 2013, less than a month after the massacre at the school in Newtown, Connecticut. It was defeated in the Senate 60 votes to 40. Only one Republican – Illinois’ Mark Kirk – voted for the bill, and 15 Democrats voted

Seven states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York – have some measure of assault weapon bans in place, and Washington DC, Chicago and Boston have city-wide measures on the books.

Connecticut and New York enacted bans on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in response to the December 2012 massacre of 20 children and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Gun Violence Research

The Centers for Disease Control defied Congress with work its researchers have not done in almost 20 years: study gun violence. But the health agency balked under a threat from lawmakers, who since 1996 have funded research only on the explicit condition that scientists do not study gun violence.

Today the CDC still avoids gun-violence research, demonstrating what many see as the depth of its fear about returning to one of the country’s most divisive debates. The agency recently was asked by The Washington Post why it was still sitting on the sidelines of firearms studies. It declined to make an official available for an interview but responded with a statement noting it had commissioned an agenda of possible research goals but still lacked the dedicated funding to pursue it.

“It is possible for us to conduct firearm-related research within the context of our efforts to address youth violence, domestic violence, sexual violence, and suicide,” CDC spokeswoman Courtney Lenard wrote, “but our resources are very limited.”
Congress has continued to block dedicated funding. The CDC is no closer to initiating gun-violence studies.

Mental Health Services

State-level funding for mental health provision did rise sharply after Sandy Hook, with 36 states and the District of Columbia increasing funding for mental health services. The January 2014 expansion of Medicaid in 27 states, which brought 7.5 million people access to a range of mental health treatment options, helped.

But the momentum has since slowed, a December 2014 study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) showed. Rhode Island cut over $30 million in mental health funding in 2014; Michigan cut $136 million. Nationwide funding for mental health services is still below pre-recession levels.

“Twenty-two states and DC increased funding in both 2013 and 2014 although the overall increases are not nearly enough to make up for cuts between 2009 and 2012,” the report noted, adding that “sadly, despite much talk about the mental health crisis in America since Newtown, little of substance on mental health care has been accomplished in the sharply divided, partisan Congress in the two years that have ensued.”

Research available shows that mass shootings represent national awakenings and moments when seeming political or social adversaries might come together to find common ground, whether guns are allowed, regulated, or banned. Doing so, however, means recognizing that gun crimes, mental illnesses, social networks, and gun access issues are complexly interrelated, and not reducible to simple cause and effect.

Other findings report that notions of mental illness that emerge in relation to mass shootings frequently reflect larger cultural stereotypes and anxieties about matters such as race/ethnicity, social class, and politics. In addition, the aftermath of mass shootings is often viewed as a window of opportunity to garner support for gun control policies, but it also exacerbates negative attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness.

The Future

We cannot continue to chalk off mass killings as unavoidable tragedies requiring no measured defensive response. Whatever steps necessary to reduce gun violence must be taken … and the sooner they are taken, the better.

Some conservatives would tell you the only way to reduce this violence is to have people acquire more guns. This is morally irresponsible and patently untrue. It is a stand that is built from fear and perpetrated by greedy gun manufacturers and the NRA.

Granted, gun violence is a complicated issue, one that will require much research and dedication to effect needed change. Yet, facing the issue and seeking answers will save innocent lives. Perhaps the first step is to convince a distrustful segment of the public that gun control does not come at the expense of personal freedoms. Reasonable policies can be found … if the American public demands action.

Sources

Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, Deanna Pan, and Maggie Caldwell, "US Mass Shootings, 1982-2012: Data from Mother Jones' Investigation," www.motherjones.com, December 28, 2012.
"Growing Support for Gun Rights." www.people-press.org. Pew Research Center. December 10, 2014.
E.E. McGinty, D.W. Webster, and C.L. Barry. “Effects of news media messages about mass shootings on attitudes toward persons with serious mental illness and public support for gun control policies.” Am J Psychiatry. May 2013.

Jonathan M. Metz., MD, PhD and Kenneth T. MacLeish, PhD. “Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms.” Am J Public Health. February 2015.

“Supreme Court rules on states' assault weapons ban.” CBS News. June 20, 2016.

Alan Yuhas and Nicky Woolf. “What happened to President Obama's plan to reduce gun violence?” The Guardian. December 04, 2015.


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