AROUND NEW ENGLAND: We have to force the issue on gun violence in U.S.

AROUND NEW ENGLAND: We have to force the issue on gun violence in U.S.

The Westerly Sun

The following editorial appeared in the Portland Press Herald on Friday:

We are not hopeless in this.

As we absorb the news of another school shooting, as more students learn what it means to feel terror in a supposed place of safety, as more parents hear the most devastating news possible, we cannot forget that we can do something.

It doesn't always feel like that, as we go back through the familiar cycle that ends with the tragedy fading from popular memory, then starts anew with the next breaking news alert.

But that can't be the end of it. We can't let that cycle be hijacked by politicians and lobbyists with no interest in an uncorrupted discussion on gun violence, or in reflecting on this uniquely American phenomenon.

They offer thoughts and prayers, then empty criticisms of the country's mental health care system, which has been systematically weakened by many of these same politicians. They avoid any mention of the problem staring us in the face.

Since 20 kids were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, more than 400 people have been shot at a school in the United States.

But they are not just school shootings — they are part of an epidemic found nowhere else; among high-income nations, 91 percent of the children under 15 shot to death are American.

There are nearly 13,000 gun homicides a year in the United States — 96 a day, including seven children and teenagers. That's 3.6 for every 1,000 residents, more than seven times the rate in Canada, 18 times the rate in Australia, and 90 times the rate in Great Britain.

And, no, the criminals in those countries don't just find another way to kill. You're as likely to get robbed in London as in New York City, but the stateside robbery ends in death 54 times more often than the one in England, all because of the presence of a gun.

We are a nation that owns 42 percent of the world's firearms but only 4.2 percent of its population. It is absolute lunacy to discuss gun violence and not focus on that fact. Other nations have mental illness, poverty and violent crime, but only the United States has so many guns, and only the United States has a problem on this scale with gun violence.

Addressing that problem is not easy, but it is also not impossible or impractical. There are effective gun laws that would likely cut down on the number of shootings without infringing unduly on anyone's rights, and they don't include giving teachers guns, or placing armed guards at every school, mall, nightclub, movie theater and church. A better background check system and further restrictions on domestic abuse perpetrators and other violent offenders are two good ideas. Cutting access to the kind of deadly rifles present at almost all of these shootings is another.

That's not to say that schools should not have a police officer present, or that the mental health system is not in need of reform. But we can't stop gun violence without dealing with guns. We are not hopeless in this, as long as we are honest about what it is.


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