GUN violence once again shook the nation last month with the killing of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook elementary school. Many of us are asking ourselves what can be done in response to the series of mass shootings during the past six months that have produced nationwide anxiety.
These incidents took place at a movie theater in Colorado (12 killed, 58 wounded), a Sikh temple in Wisconsin (7 killed, 4 wounded), a workplace in Minnesota (7 killed, 2 wounded), the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., (28 killed, 2 wounded), and most recently at the scene of a house fire in New York (3 killed, 2 wounded). And before that, closer to home, we had our own tragedies to deal with, including a killing spree last May that began at Cafe Racer in the University District and finished in First Hill (6 killed, 1 wounded) and last month’s shooting at the Clackamas shopping mall in Portland (3 killed, 1 wounded).
It was after one of these massacres, at Virginia Tech in 2007 (33 killed, 17 wounded), that I decided enough was enough and I had to do something. Having grown up in Sweden and Canada, where gun shootings are very rare, I knew that as human beings, no matter the locale, we could be doing more to stop this violence. So I joined Washington Ceasefire, a local organization dedicated to reducing gun violence, where I served on the board for several years, and I created a website tracking school shootings at www.StopTheShootings.org because information was so difficult to find.
In the same way that the National Rifle Association has scared elected leaders from doing anything to prevent gun violence in this country, they also scared public-health scientists from even studying it, according to a New York Times story.
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After researching the data that I compiled on school shootings and other information, I’ve come to this conclusion: We need to embrace common-sense proposals on gun control oriented toward improving public safety.
There were more than 30,000 gun deaths in America in 2012. In fact, gun-related deaths are projected by Bloomberg to exceed auto fatalities by 2015 as the leading cause of nonmedical deaths. Our state reached that tipping point in 2008, according to the Washington State Department of Health. By 2010, the gap in our state had grown to 607 firearm fatalities, compared with 510 motor vehicle-related fatalities.
The NRA’s recent proposal to provide armed guards at our schools would be an incomplete solution at best for reducing gun violence. After all, it is hardly feasible to place armed guards at not just every school, but also every movie theater, place of worship, workplace, coffee shop and house fire. And at worst, the NRA proposal may deflect the ongoing debate and frame it as an issue of more-versus-less guns. That would be unfortunate, because it is unclear to me that the level of gun ownership is necessarily correlated with gun violence. For instance, both Sweden and Canada, which rank high in per-capita gun ownership (10th and 13th in the world, respectively), have very little gun violence compared with America.
So what gives? Well, it is not children’s exposure to media. I recall from my own childhood that movie and video-game violence is equally prominent in both countries. Where Sweden and Canada do differ dramatically from us is in gun regulation. There are clear training requirements and appropriate regulations to ensure public safety. In fact, the general level of regulation applied to gun use is similar to what is applied to automotive safety. And that just simply makes sense.
Hardly anyone would argue that the driver’s licensing process and regulations on what type of vehicles are allowed on our roads impede our right to drive. Likewise, I have difficulty seeing how anyone could argue that common-sense regulation applied to firearms should impede with good people’s right to bear arms. Even the Supreme Court made clear that, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
So what do we do? We should start with banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that allow a gunman to fire more than 100 bullets a minute, which is what happened at most of the recent mass shootings. The prior federal ban was somewhat ineffective due to many loopholes, but we can fix it.
Furthermore, we need to institute comprehensive criminal-background checks for every gun sold in America. We must close the gun-show loophole and stop permitting the sale of firearms to convicted felons and people with mental-health issues at private gun shows.
We need to do these things, and more, at the local and national levels. We as Washingtonians must take it upon ourselves to ensure this happens. Call and write your legislators in Olympia and Washington, D.C.
Please also come out to the StandUp Washington march and rally on Sunday, Jan. 13th, which starts at 1:30 p.m. at Westlake Park and finishes at Seattle Center. Join our legislators, educators, religious leaders, business leaders, gun owners and other community members to show that you care and we can do better. More event info at wwww.StandUpWA.org.