Thursday, December 3, 2015

ENOUGH! Americans are ready for stricter gun laws (and more research)

Fifty-eight percent (PDF) of Americans support "more strict" gun laws, according to recent poll

There’s no one answer for the rise in mass shootings in America. There’s no silver bullet, no singular solution that can prevent events like what we saw in San Bernardino, or Colorado Springs last week, or anywhere else in the past year, or anywhere else in the next year.

AP-GfK poll, Oct. 28, 2015 (Source)
Some, in recognizing that there isn’t one answer, relegate themselves to accepting this is the new normal. They decide to arm themselves, something that is their right to do, but that ignores the fundamental problem altogether.

But that is the wrong approach to take. Just because there isn’t a solution that will end ALL gun violence doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best to prevent it.

Vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective, and fires still break out across the country despite fire detectors being in most homes. But the prevalence of vaccines and fire detectors have saved countless lives. We need to find a similar solution for gun violence.

We need sensible gun laws in this country. We allow purchasers to avoid lawful background checks. We allow gun owners to have high capacity gun magazines, to own military-stylized weapons that serve little purpose except to inflict harm on others. We allow instant ownership of guns, without a waiting period.

Worst of all, the one thing we do ban is research. Just hours before the shootings began in San Bernardino, a group of doctors held a press conference in D.C. to protest laws that restrict their ability to study and disseminate information about gun ownership, violence, and prevention methods.
“Gun violence claims the lives of 90 Americans every day through unintentional shootings, suicides, or homicides,” said Alice Chen, MD, executive director of Doctors for America. “My physician colleagues and I are here today because we see too many of our patients affected by gun violence.” ...

“We need to know: What impacts whether you use a gun for suicide? Which safe storage practices are effective at keeping kids safe?” Chen said. “We can answer these questions and save lives and still protect the right to bear arms -- the same way [we keep people safe while driving] and still allow people to drive.”
Those are not unreasonable demands. And Congress would be wise to address them.

But they probably won’t. As Igor Volsky, an editor with the liberal group Think Progress, showed us through a flurry of tweets yesterday, politicians on the right offer us just one solution to this mess: their thoughts and prayers. Meanwhile, they end up collecting thousands of dollars (millions, collectively) from the National Rifle Association.

The only other solution I have seen came from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who promoted a “see something, say something” campaign for citizen vigilantism at an event that was unfortunately scheduled during the San Bernardino shootings.

Walker urged Wisconsinites to tip off local law enforcement if they thought they saw something suspicious going on. “It’s incredibly important for Wisconsinites to be aware of their surroundings, especially during the holiday season when we attend special events, shop for our loved ones, and travel,” he said during the press conference.

Which is sage advice, to be sure. But it’s also common sense -- and a campaign the governor has had in place since 2012. Citizen awareness is helpful, and certainly has prevented violence in the past. But it’s not going to do enough.

The mayor of Oak Creek, Wisconsin Steve Scaffidi agrees. He bore witness to a mass shooting three years ago in the city he leads, where a racist gunman shot and killed seven Sikh parishioners.

Following the events from San Bernardino, Scaffidi explained that he has “had enough.”

Among the solutions Scaffidi said were unacceptable was the “‘wild west’ mentality of frontier justice” that purports to believe that arming everyone is the best call to action.
I am a gun owner. But I have to believe that one of the popular responses to mass shootings -- arm everyone and encourage individual and aggressive action against a mass shooter -- is at best naive, and at worst, dangerous.
The mayor’s best idea? “Why not start with researching and funding programs that have been proven to reduce violence?” he writes. “We live in a country of tremendous resources and brilliant minds who tackle difficult and complex problems every day. Why would we not care as much about this epidemic of violence as we do about all the other ways people die every day?”

Which brings us back to opening up research on the matter. If there’s one thing we need to not ban any longer, it’s that.

We also need uniform laws on the books for gun ownership. Local laws are fine and all, but when cities like Chicago try to pass laws meant to curb violence, people just find guns from out of the state and bring them into the city. A uniform policy of gun ownership, rights, and privileges would make things better.

Finally, we need to recognize the Second Amendment rights that ensure everyone can own a weapon for the purposes of defending themselves is not an absolutist doctrine. We have limits on speech rights -- we can’t erroneously shout “FIRE!” in a crowded theater -- and we should recognize that ownership of every type of weapon isn’t what the founders meant when they penned this right into the Constitution.

We can’t prevent all gun violence. But common sense solutions that have worked elsewhere (inside America and beyond its borders) can be adopted while still adhering to the tenets of the Constitution. We can stave off gun violence through adoption of enforceable legislation.

Thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s time we take action. And most of America is ready for it.

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