09.08.15

Gun violence in America can be stemmed (Burbank Leader)

Last month, television screens carried the tragic news of yet another shooting, this time the horrific on-air murder of two Virginia television journalists, Alison Parker and Adam Ward. Anyone watching the events unfold could be forgiven if it felt like they had seen this nightmare before because they have — many, many times.

Some of these shooting, like the one in Virginia, become front-page news, covered as part of the endless “breaking news” on the 24-hour news networks. A white supremacist slaughters nine men, women and children at a Bible study class in a historic African-American church in Charleston; a man murders five Marines in Chattanooga; a man kills kids at an elementary school or a day care center; a disturbed and alienated student kills several at gunpoint, again; a man shoots up a movie theater, again. And for each shooting that makes the front page, there are many more that receive barely a footnote in the papers.

There is no single policy or law that can stop gun violence or mass shootings, but that is no excuse for inaction. The question is whether we can adopt policies and laws that substantially decrease the 30,000 Americans killed each year by guns, while respecting the rights of law abiding gun owners. I believe we can.

Congress can begin by passing universal background checks, a policy supported by nearly 90% of the American people, including the vast majority of gun owners. This would require the rest of the nation to follow California's lead in requiring a background check on all gun sales, including those online or at gun shows. States that have adopted universal background checks have seen substantial reductions in illegal gun trafficking, as well as major reductions in the number of domestic partners shot and in the number of suicides.

We also need to do more to address mental illness, which has been a common thread in many shootings, particularly mass shootings. The vast majority of mentally ill people are not dangerous and, in fact, are much more likely to be the victims of violence than to inflict it on others. But we have seen in cases like Newtown or Aurora that severe mental illness can contribute to horrific violence. We can do much more to prevent those with severe mental health issues from easily obtaining weapons by ensuring that records are kept up to date in the national instant background check system. We also have to ensure that resources are available to diagnose and treat those who show signs of serious mental illness, before they can pose a threat to themselves or others.

Finally, we should crack down on channels that move guns out of the legal market and into the black market, as well as over our borders where they fuel violence in Mexico. Gun traffickers can use ‘straw purchasers’ to buy many handguns and rifles at a time, whether through a licensed gun dealer or through a private sale. They are able to traffic those weapons into the black market because of lax penalties on straw purchasers as well as unjustified congressionally imposed restrictions that make it harder to track the flow of guns.

None of these steps are a panacea, but there is solid data from the states and nations that have adopted common-sense gun laws that they help dramatically reduce gun violence. And crucially, they do not prevent anyone who is entitled to own a gun, for protection or sport, from having one. If we can summon the collective courage to act, tens of thousands of Americans can be spared the agony of the families in Virginia and across the nation.


By:  Adam Schiff
Source: Burbank Leader