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Making America safer – is it possible?

A national conversation on a complicated issue with lots of moving parts

A growing sentiment in the wake of last week’s horrific shooting spree at a Connecticut elementary school is a desire by many to talk about and to urge legislators to take action to make America safer from gun violence.
It’s a complicated issue with lots of moving parts. Numerous commentators and editorial writers and even some legislators are finding some common ground.


All shooting sprees may not be eradicated, but some feel the carnage might be lessened with common sense gun safety measures enacted.

There are a few who say that more guns are needed. Some have spoken out in favor of arming principals and teachers.

But many are convinced those same measures would lessen the number of guns reaching criminals and those not mentally competent resulting in fewer gun accidents and killings.

On average, 32 people die each day from a shooting in America, whether intended or accidental and with and a majority being self-inflicted.

 

LET’S TALK
There is talk of several components needing to be addressed, including at least three main issues. The issues include the availability of guns, what is being called an increasing culture of violence in America, and how troubled people are treated.  

President Obama said on Sunday, “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” He also noted that “the causes of such violence are complex.”

Oh, yes. They are.

It’s a topic that – for now – appears to be unavoidable, not just on a national level and in news media, but in our own homes and over our own phones.

Let’s all join in, and let’s agree to keep it civil.

NOBODY IS COMING FOR YOUR GUNS
To get to actual talking points faster, some are urging that participants in this national conversation might all agree from the get-go that nobody is trying to change or repeal the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees the right to own guns.

Likewise, the Supreme Court has affirmed the rights of individuals to own firearms. That’s not going to change and no one is talking about changing it.

GUN SAFETY
Perhaps the topic about guns should NOT be called ‘gun control,’ but should be called gun safety.

Words make a difference, with lobbies for gun manufacturers having trained so many of us to have a knee-jerk reaction to the term ‘gun control,’ either for it, or against it.

Whereas, it’s difficult to find someone who is not in favor of gun safety, at least in theory.

That certainly includes gun owners, who often are the most concerned about the need for gun safety, and are adept in ways to safely handle guns.

URBAN VS. RURAL?
Some pundits are framing this issue by blaming rural Americans as those against gun safety measures.
Yet, anecdotal evidence indicates that hunters and sportsmen are very concerned about gun safety.

Hunters don’t use high capacity clips. Sportsmen don’t hunt with assault weapons.

Gun safety encompasses many areas, including handling and securing firearms. That includes keeping guns locked up and/or in a place unknown or inaccessible to children, strangers and other family members.

There is a minority who are concerned about their ability to keep arsenals, saying the necessity may arise to overthrow a majority-elected government to maintain their freedom.

Many counter that by saying that children should have the freedom to safely attend school and Americans should have the freedom to go about their daily lives without the fear of random gun violence.

ASSAULT-STYLE WEAPONS AND HIGH-CAPACITY AMMO CLIPS
California Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a successful ban on assault-style semi-automatic weapons and high capacity ammunition clips in 1993 that was signed into law in 1994.
That ban was allowed to expire in 2004.

Feinstein announced this past weekend that she will introduce a similar ban in January with companion legislation to be introduced in the House of Representatives.

These bills would ban the sale, transport, import and possession of assault weapons and also place a ban on big clips, drums and strips holding more than 10 bullets.  

The bills, if adopted, would not be retroactive, so would not affect those currently owned. Nobody is coming for your guns.

But the country appears to be split on the issue of tighter restrictions on guns with a slight majority in favor of tighter gun safety regulations.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted last weekend (Dec. 14-16) indicated 54 percent of the public favor stricter gun laws, with 43 percent opposed. Similarly, 52 percent support a ban on assault weapons, with 44 percent opposed.  

BACKGROUND CHECKS/GUN SHOW LOOPHOLE
Another of the gun safety measures proposed is for a federal law that requires a background check for anyone purchasing a gun.

Forty percent of gun are bought on what’s called the ‘secondary market.’

The ‘gun show loophole’ allows firearm sales without any background checks at gun shows and trade shows, along with those sold over the internet.

Hand in hand with background checks for all gun sales, another proposal calls for effective enforcement of the existing requirement for background checks by gun stores.

That would provide for updating the federal gun data base to computerize the records of those with criminal backgrounds and those adjudicated to have mental illness.  

In addition, many are asking that the judicial system become more effective in prosecuting those who lie about their criminal records on gun permit applications.

Tens of thousands of individuals have been charged with that offense, but only a miniscule number have been prosecuted.

Closing the gun show loop hole and a requirement for effective background checks might lessen the number of guns that are sold each year going forward.

Studies clearly indicate the fewer guns around, the fewer gun mishaps and deaths. (For information about and the actual studies that provide information about gun violence, go online to <http://www.bradycampaign.org/facts/studies>.)

MENTAL HEALTH ASSISTANCE
Reaching out and providing assistance to troubled teens and adults is another area where many are saying America is deficient. That includes provision of accessible mental health services at an affordable cost.
In addition, those with emotional issues and/or substance abuse problems should be encouraged to address them by talking about them and seeking professional help.

We each have the ability to become more effective members of our families, neighborhoods and communities, by learning to recognize the symptoms of mental illness.

We may be able to identify those signs in family members, friends and acquaintances who appear to be suffering, and provide help by urging them to talk about it and to get professional help.

DESTIGMATIZING MENTAL ILLNESS
In addition, a change is likely necessary to include efforts to de-stigmatize mental illness.
Each of us has the ability to make a change in our own cultural attitudes. It requires new thinking about troubled people who we might otherwise denigrate as kooks, nuts or loonies.

We can begin by taking responsibility to choose the words we use in our daily life when speaking casually about people who are troubled. It’s a matter of using words that don’t demean and denigrate others them by calling them judgmental names.

CULTURE OF VIOLENCE
Suggestions are also being made to ‘do something’ about what many are calling America’s ‘culture of violence.’
Criticized are some graphic television programs and films that glorify gore and guts, along with some video games popular with a segment of youth which are said to de-sensitize susceptible people to the reality and results of shooting and death.

Suggestions are beginning to come forward to provide tighter controls over such entertainment to younger age groups and urging parents to take a more active role in decisions about this type of entertainment, particularly for impressionable teen males.

Thoughts, anyone?


— Phyllis Cook

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