Thursday, June 25, 2015

How America Can Free Itself from Guns

The recent horrific murders in Charleston have revived debate and posturing on America's insane gun ownership policies that help make gun violence off the charts compared to the rest of the developed world.  Advocates for unrestricted gun ownership cite the 2nd Amendment and believe their rights - much like the Christofascists do on religious belief - trump the rights of everyone else.  It is no surprise that both groups are core constituencies for the Republican Party that places the rights of the extremist few above the rights of the majority.  A piece in the Washington Post looks at strategies to end the gun insanity that plagues the nation.  Here are highlights:

Advocates of a saner approach to guns need a new strategy. We cannot go on like this, wringing our hands in frustration after every tragedy involving firearms. We said “enough” after Sandy Hook. We thought the moment for action had come. Yet nothing happened. We are saying “enough” after Charleston. But this time, we don’t even expect anything to happen.

What’s needed is a long-term national effort to change popular attitudes toward handgun ownership. And we need to insist on protecting the rights of Americans who do not want to be anywhere near guns.

None of this should mean letting Congress off the hook or giving up on what might be done now. So kudos to Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) for saying on Tuesday that they are looking for ways to bring back their proposal that would require background checks for gun sales. 

Lest anyone doubt that gun control measures can work, a study released this month by the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University found that a 1995 Connecticut law requiring a permit or license contingent on passing a background check was associated with a 40 percent drop in gun homicides.

But as long as gun control is linked to ideology and party — and as long as the National Rifle Association and its allies claim a monopoly on arguments about individual rights — reasonable steps of this sort will be ground to death by the Washington Obstruction Machine.

That’s why the nation needs a public service offensive on behalf of the health and safety of us all. It could build on Sandy Hook Promise and other civic endeavors. If you doubt it could succeed, consider how quickly opinion changed on the Confederate battle flag.

My friend Guy Molyneux, a progressive pollster, laid out how it could happen. “We need to build a social movement devoted to the simple proposition that owning handguns makes us less safe, not more,” he told me. “The evidence is overwhelming that having a gun in your home increases the risks of suicide, domestic violence and fatal accidents, and yet the number one reason given for gun purchases is ‘personal safety.’ We need a public health campaign on the dangers of gun ownership, similar to the successful efforts against smoking and drunk driving.”

When we talk about guns, we don’t focus enough on the reality, reported in the 2015 Annual Review of Public Health, that nearly two-thirds of the deaths from firearm violence are suicides. Yes, people can try to kill themselves with pills, but there’s no coming back from a gunshot to the head. Those in the throes of depression who have a gun nearby are more likely to act on their darkest impulses.

Nor do we talk enough about accidental deaths when children get their hands on guns, or what happens when a domestic argument escalates and a firearm is readily available. The message is plain and simple: Households that voluntarily say no to guns are safer.

“This is not about the government saying you cannot own a handgun. This is about society saying you should not have a gun, especially in a home with children.”

“Those of us who want to live, shop, go to school and worship in gun-free spaces also have rights,” Molyneux said. “In what way is ‘freedom’ advanced by telling the owner of a bar or restaurant they cannot ban handguns in their own place of business, as many states now do? Today, it is the NRA that is the enemy of freedom, by seeking to impose its values on everyone else.”

The nation could ring out with the new slogans of liberty: “Not in my house.” “Not in our school.” “Not in my bar.” “Not in our church.” We’d be defending one of our most sacred rights: The right not to bear arms.

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