Can this country do what it takes to reduce gun violence? Let's talk about the issues involved.
We'll start with President Obama's proposals. The President's plan includes four points:
- Closing background check loopholes to keep guns out of dangerous hands
- Banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and taking other common-sense steps to reduce gun violence
- Making schools safer and
- Increasing access to mental health services.
Closing background check loopholes wouldn't have affected Newtown, granted. But it might stop suicides and domestic shootings. And making straw purchases a felony might stop some of the street sales of guns in inner cities.
I have mixed feelings about banning assault weapons, but I can get behind banning high-capacity magazines that let someone rip off 150 shots in five minutes. That would definitely help in mass shooting scenarios, like the one in Arizona where the shooting was stopped when the shooter had to stop to change clips. Some people think that stopping gun violence is a gun control issue.
I also have mixed feelings about "making schools safer." There is some evidence that school resource officers (SROs), who are supposed to make schools safer, are criminalizing childish behavior and teaching kids to distrust police. But others say this isn't true. The ACLU has put forth a paper to guide SROs that encourages thinking about "the role of SROs within the context of the educational mission of schools." Some people believe that gun violence can be addressed as a school safety issue.
Increased access to mental health care is great because mentally ill people have been stigmatized and marginalized forever. They need care. Some people think that gun violence is a mental health issue.
But, even if we had the courage to enact them, these ideas alone are not enough to stop America's gun violence. That's because America's gun violence isn't just found in mass shootings.
CDC data indicates that there were 11,078 firearm homicides in 2010. That's an average of 30 deaths per day -- 30 people killed by guns per day. That's a Newtown every single day.
There were also 19,392 firearm suicides in 2010. Hopefully, steps will be taken as I proposed in an earlier post that might help bring this number down.
Our biggest problem is not mass shootings. I would posit that our biggest problem is the objectivizing and marginalizing of our fellow citizens, which causes daily violence. Some Americans nourish a hatred for people who are not like them, and some feel as if they're in competition with everybody else.
Oryx Cohen, in a blog post, claims that we are all responsible for the mass shootings. He says, "[W]e are all responsible for creating healthier communities so these types of tragedies do not occur. We all have more power than we realize." He suggests some common-sense steps we could all take to avoid marginalizing people who are different from the norm. It's worth your time to read.
My friend, Heather, commented on a previous post,
"When you live in a country that has so many people vehemently against providing basic health care for everyone, it leaves you wondering just how much a human life is worth to these people? When you have people say that those without insurance and cannot afford care should just die? Is it any wonder that we have so many people killed with guns."Heather just might be on to something here.
A CNN article reminds us that mass shootings are only a small fraction of America's gun crime. Its authors agree with Heather that many shootings are caused by societal ills, saying
"Through a complex mix of violence, institutional arrangements and exploitation, black Americans were pressured into ghettos, which are the hotbeds of contemporary gun violence. Their inability to escape their conditions is not a choice but rather the byproduct of continued structural discrimination. Slowing the tide of inner-city deaths through gun control is therefore a modern-day civil rights issue." (italics and bold type mine)Randolph Roth, author of American Homicide, who researched homicide rates over a four-century period in America and western Europe, makes the following observations:
"[H]omicide rates among adults are not determined by proximate causes, like poverty, drugs, unemployment, alcohol, race, or ethnicity. Instead, factors that seem on the face of it to be impossibly remote—like the feelings that people have toward their government, the degree to which they identify with members of their own communities, and the opportunities they have to earn respect without resorting to violence—determine homicide rates." (italics mine)
"The killers were already predisposed to violence. They were already prepared to view people as enemies or rivals or prey."
"The predisposition to violence is not rooted in objective social conditions. . . . The predisposition to violence is rooted in feelings and beliefs." (bold type mine)Jamilah King relates, in an excellent article at ColorLines.com, that people in Chicago are examining gun violence from multiple angles. A group called CeaseFire sees the root of the violence as untreated trauma and views it as a public health problem.
But David Brotherton, a criminologist at John Jay College, says that "Gangs are caused by people responding to massive levels of marginalization." (italics mine) He thinks that CeaseFire is limited because that group can't "create jobs, they can’t make society shift real resources to the poorest areas.” This view sees violence as a political challenge rather than a public health one.
An op-ed in Yes! Magazine states that "U.S. society tends to deal with violence by treating it as an individual occurrence—focusing on the “perpetrator” and how he is different from us." The writer describes gun violence as a cultural issue.
So we have multiple perspectives on the gun violence that threatens Americans every single day:
- It's a gun control issue.
- It's a school safety challenge.
- It's a mental health issue.
- It's a civil rights issue.
- It's an issue of feelings and beliefs.
- It's a public health problem.
- It's a political challenge.
- It's a cultural issue.
This means that we have to make our schools vibrant and attractive centers of learning, not for-profit operations. We have to encourage our most talented and brightest people to be teachers, in part by paying them great salaries. We have to make college affordable so people can learn to think critically and to advance beyond their class of origin. We have to stop sending drug users to prison and get them help. We have to learn to really live by the Golden Rule, not just give it lip service.
American Christians have to read the red letters in the Gospels and really love one another. This means willingness to assist our fellow citizens who are in need, not to punish and penalize them. It means that we are all created equal. It means we must end the greed, selfishness, resentment, and inequality bred by our system of unfettered capitalism.
Fixing this problem of American violence also requires leadership, compassion, and courage from the people we elect. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much in the behavior of Republican politicians to make us think we can expect leadership, compassion, or courage from them. They couldn't even pass an amendment that closes loopholes in background checks. Let us pray that this obstructionism ceases.
Since 1971 I've been voting, reading, writing, educating people, trying to be more loving and peace-giving, contacting my state and federal legislators by phone and email to advocate for compassionate legislation, and attending small and huge demonstrations to call attention to issues. I don't know what else to do.
We all, including you, must continue to take action to restore the American Dream and live by the Golden Rule. This is the only way to end the carnage in America.
Can we rise to this challenge?