Tuesday January 22, 2013

STOCKBRIDGE

A week ago, I drove to Connecticut, so I had two and a half hours to listen to NPR, a good portion of which was a round table discussion of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new gun control law. Every time someone had a hissy fit over the new law that bans the sale of semi-automatic weapons with detachable magazines and high-capacity magazines, requires licenses renewal every five years, and background checks at all gun sales, I turned off the radio. It was hard to listen to people who were defending their right to own instruments of mass murder.

I turned the radio back on when the mental health professionals spoke. Part of New York’s law requires health care professionals to report patients who could harm themselves or others. The professionals spoke about the medial and ethical issues involved in this, and how they thought the law would be a detriment to the patient-therapist relationship and prevent people from seeking treatment for fear of losing their guns.

The Secret Service studied 37 school shootings at the middle school and high school level and found a definite pattern of the perpetrators. The majority of them were suicidal. They almost all talked about what they were going to do, and revenge was clearly the motive, said Dr. Scott Poland, a psychologist at Virginia Tech in a 2008 NPR interview. They are people who need help and should not have access to guns as owners or as residents of homes where there are guns.

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I tend to speak to the radio when I am alone in the car, so I pointed out to the radio that two-thirds of the mentally ill people in this country are not in therapy and not all mass murderers are mentally ill. The law is not perfect. Ideally, we would have separate laws. Ones to help the mentally ill and ones to control the purchase of assault weapons. But our mental health system is in desperate need of reform, and our country desperately needs gun reform.

I had my biggest arguments with the callers defending their right to own an assault weapons who introduced themselves by saying, I am a gun-lover. I can see liking an antique gun, or a gun passed-down through the family or the gun you use to hunt with. But loving a military weapon? Isn’t that akin to loving a hand grenade, a bundle of dynamite, anthrax, or a "dirty" bomb. Who loves a military weapon if she or he is not fighting in a war? No one can dispute that since George W. Bush let the assault weapon ban expire, gun violence has escalated to the point that the United States is now the most violent country in the world. U.S. citizens own 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms, according to the Small Arms Survey 2007 by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies.

About 4.5 million of the 8 million new guns manufactured worldwide each year are purchased in the United States, the survey said. "There is roughly one firearm for every seven people worldwide. Without the United States, though, this drops to about one firearm per 10 people." The Princeton Election Consortium points out, "The federal assault weapons ban was in place from 1994-2004. Since the gun ban expired in 2004, "the number of shootings per year has doubled, and the number of victims per year has nearly tripled. Three of the bloodiest four years shown here occurred since the expiration."

President Obama introduced his proposed legislation for stronger gun controls last week by reminding us about the tragedy in Newtown. "While there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try."

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It is going to be extremely difficult for President Obama’s proposals to be passed by Congress. A New York Times editorial said a few days ago, "the gun lobby is focused within the Republican Party, but Democratic lawmakers have also been to blame for failing to pass meaningful gun regulations. This is not a time for lawmakers to do the politically safe thing, or the N. R. A. approved thing, even if they know it is less than is needed. It is time to reach for big ideas and strong laws on gun violence."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo led the way when he signed a package of tougher gun measures. Now it is up to all Americans who believe in making our country and our children safe, to put pressure on our representatives to pass Obama’s bills. Let’s go.

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.