Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Monday, December 17, 2012

The time to ACT is NOW.

Unless you were asleep all weekend, you already know that a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday before shooting himself in the head.

In addressing an interfaith memorial service last night in Newtown, President Obama noted that this was the fourth such mass shooting in America since he first took office.

Several aspects of American culture and society are -- without question -- factors in this epidemic of mass shootings in the US.

We may or may not be able to do anything right away to change popular culture that gives these monsters the notion that one can solve his problems with horrendous violence.

But we CAN act now to bring swift change to minimize the possibility this could ever happen again in America.

It's now three weeks shy of two years since Arizona Congressman Ron Barber (D-Second District) was among those shot by a young adult male with a particular serious mental illness in Tucson.

Because Barber was re-elected last month, could there be anyone better positioned to take the lead on public policy changes that can stop these incidents from ever recurring?

Yesterday, the Arizona Republic published Barber's op-ed reflecting on the latest incident.
Information is emerging about the mental health of the Connecticut gunman. It is irresponsible to dismiss untreated mental illness as a factor in several recent mass shootings. We have it within our power as a nation to resolve these issues. It is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of people dealing with mental illness are not violent...
After I was wounded almost two years ago, I took steps to address the mental-health issue head-on. My family and I founded the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, and our first priority was to increase community awareness and to remove the stigma that prevents many people from getting treatment for a mental illness.
This year, I co-sponsored the Mental Health First Aid Higher Education Act, which would provide training to help people identify and respond to signs of mental illness and deal with psychiatric crises. The bill did not pass this year, but I am committed to reintroducing it next session. We also must protect state and federal funding for mental-health services.
There are many other factors that can produce a violent tragedy. But we do know that the availability of certain weapons coupled with mental illness is a recipe for disaster. (emphasis added)
Thinking about this tragedy all weekend, a number of things become clear to me.

Apparently, there actually IS evidence demonstrating that making it harder to obtain firearms dramatically reduces injury and death from firearms. After mass shootings in Australia in 1996, firearms regulation was reformed. According to a 2006 study on the issue:
After a 1996 firearm massacre in Tasmania in which 35 people died, Australian governments united to remove semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns and rifles from civilian possession, as a key component of gun law reforms.
Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms were followed by more than a decade free of fatal mass shootings, and accelerated declines in firearm deaths, particularly suicides. Total homicide rates followed the same pattern. Removing large numbers of rapid-firing firearms from civilians may be an effective way of reducing mass shootings, firearm homicides and firearm suicides. 

An op-ed column in the Sydney Morning Herald reflects on the issue of firearms availability:

Too many lethal weapons are too easily available to too many people. Most US states have no owner licensing or gun registration, no requirement to provide a good reason to own a gun, no ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, and no limit on the number of such guns a person can own.
Australia has all of the above, thanks to the reforms to our gun laws after the 1996 massacre at Port Arthur in Tasmania. That contrast is why the rate of gun death in the US is more than 10 times the rate in Australia.
Port Arthur was the tipping point for Australia, after many years of avoidance by politicians who knew the gun laws needed reform but lacked the guts to do it. The murder of 35 people on one afternoon marked the end of the prevarication. The laws were overhauled with resounding success: annual gun deaths have dropped by half, and we have not had a mass shooting since 1996. An evaluation by researchers at the Australian National University found the laws saved, every year, 200 lives and $500 million.
Other developed countries that have suffered such calamities have also toughened their gun laws. The massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School reprises the tragedy at Dunblane Primary School in Scotland in 1996, where 16 children and their teacher were murdered and 12 more children wounded by a disgruntled man with a gun. The only eventual glimmer of consolation for those grieving families was that Britain reformed its gun laws, and it is extremely unlikely that such a horror will recur in that country.
So, evidence DOES show the clear correlation between easy availability of firearms and mass shootings. 

When the gun fetishists invoke the canard that "when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns," it will be important to stay focused and on point.

The first steps that need to be taken do NOT outlaw all guns. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has announced that she will introduce, reportedly on the first day of the 113th Congress, an assault weapons ban. And Rep. Barber intends to re-introduce the Mental Health First Aid Higher Education Act. Neither bill, as specified so far, will go far enough.

However, if Americans demonstrate resolve on this issue and show unwavering support for Members of Congress who dare to defy the National Rifle Association, other changes can be made in short order.

It is well past time to mandate background checks for ALL firearms sales, ESPECIALLY at gun shows. Waiting periods are also warranted.

NONE of these steps breach the rights of citizens spelled out in the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

Two steps that you and I can take right now:
  • Publicly pledge to vote against ANY state or federal lawmaker who accepts ANY donations from the NRA.
  • Sign on to the petition calling for Congressman Barber to take the lead in addressing the epidemic. 

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