EASY ACCESS TO GUNS IS MAJOR CAUSE OF U.S. GUN VIOLENCE EPIDEMIC

Westerly Sun

 

In the guest editorial of 6/22 mysteriously titled “How to Help Prevent Terrorism in R.I.”, Mr. Overton offers no ideas about preventing terrorism, but discusses the causes of mass shootings and asks “Is it because of so-called “assault weapons”? He replies “Hardly.” This is the NRA line, “Guns don’t kill people, people do”.

  

Mr. Overton does not seem to accept or perhaps realize that it is the easy access to guns, all kinds of guns, including so-called assault weapons that has created an epidemic of mass shootings, gun deaths in urban areas, suicides and accidental deaths and injuries in the US. 

 

Instead of focusing on the easy access to guns and the sheer number of guns in the hands of citizens (there are approximately 300 million guns for 320 million people), Mr. Overton attempts to distract the Sun’s readers from the horrors of military assault rifle attacks by pointing to the existence of automatic weapons dating back to the 19th century, mental illness and the emergence of terrorism.  Does he really expect us to equate a Colt 45 revolver with the assault rifle?  Perhaps he wants us to imagine the killer rolling a 19th century Gatling gun into the Pulse nightclub or the Newtown elementary school. 

 

As for blaming the epidemic of mass shootings on the mentally ill, again the facts are that the majority of people with a bonafide diagnosis of mental illness are not homicidal. As a psychologist with over 30 years treating people with emotional problems I can attest to what research has found; namely, there is a relationship between anger and impulsivity and resorting to violence to settle real or perceived slights, annoyances, or disliked actions and behavior.  It is the people with a short fuse who are the ones that resort to violence.  And if a gun is available, the target of their violence is more likely to die.  This is the case in domestic abuse situations, the gang wars, and all mass shootings.

 

The last factor Mr. Overton blames for mass shootings is terrorism, home grown terrorism.  Again, data points to easy access of firearms.  It’s no accident that the ISIS propagandists have run ads on U.S. social media urging homegrown sympathizers to buy guns since the U.S. is “awash” in weapons.

 

According to the Gun Violence Archive data, there were 372 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2015(defined as 4 or more people killed in 1 incident), killing 475 and wounding 1,870. That is more than 1 mass shooting per day. And mass shootings are happening at a faster pace in 2016. So far in 2016, 49 mass shootings in the United States have left 73 people dead and 178 wounded. The combined total is up by one-third compared to the same time last year.  And all this adds up to 36 people a day are victims of gun violence.

 

When it comes to gun massacres, the United States is tragically exceptional: There are more public mass shootings in the United States than in any other country in the world according to a recent study. And of course, the worst mass shooting in U.S. history just occurred in the Orlando slaughter.

 

Where there are more guns there is more homicide (Harvard Research Injury Center). After a horrific mass shooting in Australia in 1996, the prime minister immediately called for the passage of strong guns laws and a gun buyback. In the 20 years since, there has not been a single mass shooting in Australia. There is other evidence looking at the laws in 20 countries indicated the stronger the gun laws the fewer the gun deaths according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

 

Recently, the American Medical Association, the premier association of physicians in the U.S. declared that gun violence is a major public health problem and that they are now going to actively support major changes in federal laws.

 

So far the U.S. Congress has been unable to pass any sensible gun legislation.  Newtown didn’t matter. San Bernardino didn’t matter. And now Orlando doesn’t matter.  The NRA continues to own politicians and have a veto over the votes of many in Congress. 

 

To restore common sense when it comes to gun laws, the U.S. Congress needs to pass the following measures:


* Expand background checks on gun sales and strengthen the background check system by funding it appropriately.
*  Give the Department of Justice a way to block the sale of guns to suspected terrorists with a robust due process and appeals system .

*  Close the Charleston Loophole that allowed the Charleston shooter to purchase his weapons which he used to kill nine people in their place of worship because his background check hadn’t been completed within three days.

*  Ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. 

 

And the RI legislators, in lockstep with the Congress,  have not passed any common sense gun legislation either. Instead, in the wake of the Orlando tragedy the RI General Assembly offered thoughts and prayers and moments of silence, again! For the third year in a row, the RI legislators chose not to pass three bills supported by the RI Coalition Against Gun Violence (RICAGV) and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. First, they used the victims of domestic violence to pretend that they were passing meaningful legislation, when in fact, the one piece of gun legislation passed  only reinforces current law and does nothing to protect victims from misdemeanor convicted perpetrator or those under a restraining order. Westerly Representatives Azzinaro, Kennedy and Flippi did not support the stronger legislation.

 

The RI House, including Westerly’s Representatives, voted unanimously for legislation which would make it easier to get a permit for a concealed weapon. This was in spite of strong objections from the RI Police Chiefs. Because of the loophole in RI law which allows people with concealed carry permits to take guns onto school grounds, they came close to making it easier for anyone to carry guns into schools.  Fortunately this bill was defeated in the RI Senate.

 

And the third bill supported by the RI Coalition Against Gun Violence to limit the number of rounds in magazines to 10 never made it out of the Judiciary committee in either the House or the Senate.  So, RI remains a state where RI law limits hunters to 3 bullets for duck hunting and 5 bullets for deer hunting, but unlike Massachusetts and Connecticut, there is NO limit for the number of bullets in sports weapons commonly used for mass shootings. 

 

The lack of action of the General Assembly this year is a rebuke to the citizens of Rhode Island who overwhelmingly support the legislation put forward by the RICAGV.  Specifically, a random survey of 400 Rhode Islanders, found 82 % supported closing the loophole of allowing guns in schools. After being informed that RI law is weaker than federal law which restricts possession of firearms by individuals convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse or those under a restraining order, there was 92% support for a gun ownership ban for people convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse. And when informed of the RI limits for duck and deer hunting, 75% of voters supported limiting the number of bullets in guns to 10 rounds (see RICAGV.org).

 

It seems that our state legislators are in the pocket of the NRA and the RI Second Amendment Coalition.  This is an election season and Iapplaud Mr. Trebisacci (letters to the editor June 26) for urging voters to only vote for people on the federal, state and local levels who support common sense gun legislation which would increase the safety of Rhode Islanders. It should be remembered that Justice Scalia who authored the famous 2008 District of Columbia vs Heller  opinion for the Supreme Court allowing individuals to own handguns in the home for self defense said: “The Second Amendment right is not absoluteand a wide range of gun control laws remain “presumptively lawful”.

 

Respectfully submitted,   

                                                            

Nina P. Rossomando, Ph.D.

12 West Fairway Ave. 

Westerly, RI 02891 

401.348.7054

 

The writer is a licensed doctoral level psychologist and a member of the RI Coalition Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

 


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