Houston gun show (1199 x 803)
Photo credit: By Glasgows | Houston Gun Show | CC BY 2.0
I wrote this a decade ago. Outside of some minor formatting changes, it appears exactly as I wrote it in 2007. I decided to republish this story today to make this point: Outside of the now-expired assault weapon ban, we haven’t made any significant changes in national firearm policy and the massacres continue unabated. Shame on us.

Every time we have a mass murder related to guns, talking heads on TV start out by saying that it is the easy accessibility of guns in this country that makes violence so deadly. [The United States has higher rates of firearm ownership than do other developed nations, and higher rates of homicide.] Then slowly, but persistently, the “pro guns-for-everyone” folks mouth some variant of the NRA message that guns don’t kill, people do.

Yes, I agree, mass murderers can still wreak havoc even in the absence of guns. But, let’s get real…how many people could a killer kill if he only had a knife? In the case of today’s horrendous crime on the Virginia Tech campus, I would suggest that it is highly unlikely that 33 young college students would be dead tonight if the lone assailant only had a machete.

 

Gun ownership and gun laws

I understand the arguments for gun ownership. Some people like to hunt and some people feel better when they own a gun for self- or family protection. I have a harder time with the argument that, if everyone was armed, it would serve as a deterrent to the bad guys. Do you seriously think that today’s tragedy would be averted if all of the college kids (and/or their teachers) were packing guns?

The propensity to commit violent acts is multi-faceted. Many perpetrators of violence are themselves victims of violence, particularly family violence, and in some cases, school bullying. We need to acknowledge and actively try to identify individuals with these risk factors in order to prevent future violence. But, while we are trying to identify, counsel, and advise these folks, we must enact interventions that will make it less likely, or better yet, impossible, that these potentially violent people can or will use their favored means of killing…guns.

That means we need not only to enforce existing gun laws, but we need to enact new, more targeted firearm legislation that will allow us to craft solutions that are far more effective than what we have in place to date.

Years ago, when I was active in the violence prevention arena, I was interviewed by Voice of America. The interviewer asked me what I wanted to talk about. I said either gun violence or domestic violence. He said not to bother talking about gun violence because the rest of the world thought Americans were the laughing stock of the world when it came to firearm policy.

Pro-gunners often twist the facts to say that other countries have the same gun availability as the U.S. A common argument is to say, “Look at the Israelis. All the young people have guns.” Yes, young adults in the Israeli Army all have Army issue rifles, but there are strict rules about when or where they can be used. That is a very different situation from what we have in America. Youngsters here tell me that if I give them “$20 and 20 minutes”, they can get any type of gun I want—no questions asked.

Come on, folks! There has to be a middle ground between “confiscating everyone’s guns” and free accessibility of guns for anyone, everyone, anytime, any place.

Let’s not let the urgency of today’s situation be replaced by the rhetoric of people who have a lot to gain by continued sales of guns to as many people as they want to get their hands on an instrument whose primary usage is shooting something living (yeah, I know about the joys of target shooting, but let’s face it…most people who strongly advocate gun ownership aren’t getting lathered up about their right to continue participating in those activities).

 

We need all cards on the table

Ok, you may want to label me a bleeding heart liberal. But I would more accurately be labeled as a mother of kids who went off to college and survived. I can’t even imagine the pain of the parents of today’s victims of the gun violence on the Virginia Tech campus. You send your kids off to college with a sense that, because of their upbringing, they are ready to take on life’s challenges. But, how many parents prepare (or want to prepare) their kids for college by talking about how to avoid being shot. Come on, now. This is sick.

Let’s put all of the cards back on the table again. If aggressively limiting access to guns means fewer kids killed, let’s do it, now. We need to stop being afraid to be bold on the role of guns in violent death. We need to stop being manipulated by people who have a lot of gain by selling guns to anyone and everyone with a buck. We need to empower and fund reputable organizations to perform the research on violence and violence prevention. (It has effectively disappeared from the Center for Disease Control’s research agenda in the last six years). We need to put the health and safety of our kids ahead of any other political agenda. Can we possibly value gun ownership more than the safety of our kids at school?

If our past actions are a predictor of the future, then this is what will probably happen. Time will pass and the rawness of our emotions, so exposed right now in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech Massacre, will dampen. We will start to waffle on any enthusiasm to pursue rational gun control…we simply won’t care as much as the folks who profit from profligate sales of firearms. And then, we will be right back to where we have been for the last twenty or thirty years, waiting for one more (short-fused) time bomb to explode onto our campuses and into our national psyches.

How many more school kids need to get shot to death? How much more campus blood and gore do we need to see? How many more unbearable tragedies do American families need to endure before we finally stand up and demand a change in our national firearm policy?

Patricia Salber MD, MBA (@docweighsin)
Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In. She is also a physician executive who has worked in all aspects of healthcare including practicing emergency physician, health plan executive, consultant to employers, CMS, and other organizations. She is a Board Certified Internist and Emergency Physician who loves to write about just about anything that has to do with healthcare.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Pat, you give liberals a bad name. I’d offer the following points:We don’t know yet where the shooter got his firearms. Let’s wait for the facts and then have a review of how existing laws were circumvented prior to more of the legislation, regulation and litigation management methodology.Assaults and deaths in US learning institutions have actually DECREASED over the last few decades, even if the Columbines are included in the statistics. Blockbuster tragedies like this are horrific anecdotes, but policy is better served by data.The NRA types you describe (and I forgive the use of the broad brush above) share many of the features of our liberal brethren. You should hear what the NRA types say about ‘y’all! BUT one thing we can all agree on is our love for our democracy but only respecting the government when it deserves it. That’s one of the reasons why the FF’s authored the 2nd Amendment. Finally, I trust the democratic process will always come up with the best solutions, just so long as they don’t violate that any of the pertinent clauses in the U.S. Constitution. Washington DC ran into a problem with that, and the solutions you describe seem to be more of the same!

  2. Jaan, I am suggesting putting everything on the table again — that means an examination of the facts of this case and a look at current laws. But, it also means being open to changing laws and making new ones that may be more effective. Yes, firearm crimes have decreased since a huge peak in the early to mid-90s, but the rates are still higher than anywhere else in the world – unless you add in those societies that are in the midst of civil wars or committing genocide. I am not sure you are correct about school massacres decreasing. The lists I found on the web show more frequent school shootings in recent years. Further, I know that when I was in high school, we did not worry about getting shot by a fellow student. We worried about drunk driving and getting leukemia. What is the impact of this type of terror on the collective psyches of school kids?

  3. The issue with gun regulation always comes back to people on either side of the issue pandering to the extreme end of their constituency. Liberals will pander to those who favor strong restrictions or Europe-like outright bans, conservatives will pander to gun owners who fear their guns being taken away. The paranoia and distrust prevalent in both sides of this debate seems to be a common theme among blogs I’ve read so far. The people in the middle? Well, they get drowned out. There are a lot more of them, especially in the gun owning community, than you would think. Many gun owners favor regulation that has been proven to keep guns out of criminal’s hands but are not unnecessarily restrictive. The D.C. gun ban is an example that does NOT fall into this category, and neither did the assault weapons ban that really did nothing but make life difficult for gun owners. Of course, the problem with every school shooting is that they are not committed by criminals but by the mentally unsound. As I have severe doubts as to the ability of any state’s laws to have prevented this tragedy, I wholly agree that a fresh start that moves beyond merely treating guns as hazardous products is necessary. Of course, we have the Supreme Court case US v. Lopez to deal with, but that’s another story entirely.

  4. I am suggesting putting everything on the tableForgive me Dr. Salber, but I don’t believe you. What I think you will not put on the table (i.e. offer for serious consideration instead of ridicule) is the idea of empowering individual self-defense. do you seriously think that today’s tragedy would be averted if all of the college kids (and/or their teachers) were packing guns?This is what I mean by ridicule. Nobody suggests that all of the college kids (and/or their teachers) should be packing guns. The question is whether any faculty, staff, or students ought to be allowed to pack guns and under what circumstances.We already know faculty can stop an attack in progress http://www.davekopel.com/2A/OthWr/principalgun.htm. This man was even willing to risk jail to do it. How many kids might be alive today if Mr. Myrick had been permitted to keep his .45 on his person? Even after 20 years’ experience with concealed carry all across the country, this is the one option that will not even be considered by idealogues.If even one citizen on United Flight 93 had been armed, everyone on the airplane might well have survived, but our policy choices pretty well guaranteed they wouldn’t. Similarly this kid knew he’d face no armed resistance on the campus unless he was unlucky enough to run into a campus policeman. This should not be. Anybody with an NRA Marksman rating (or equivalent) and a carry permit ought to be allowed, even encouraged, to carry pretty much anywhere: airplanes, schools, sports arenas, grocery stores, post offices, hospitals, nearly anywhere. Probably not prisons, maybe not courtrooms. With a few days’ instruction, most people can achieve a Marksman rating. Shooting is pretty easy, which is why a kid with a pistol can kill 22 people.Unlike Jaan, I am not so hopeful about the democratic process.

  5. Can someone please explain to me what purpose handguns and assault rifles serve besides the argument of self-defense. Seems to me I’ve only heard a handful of stories in my life of guns being used in self-defense and yet have heard of at least ten-fold more stories like VA Tech or of a child at home shot by himself or his sibling.We just had a similar story in Idaho of a man who killed a student at Univ of Idaho, Univ of Arizona and then an employee of Idaho Fish and Game.One of the biggest concerns I have about everyone carrying guns isthe situations which, in the past may only have led to verbal or non-lethal violence, but now leads to easy use of their gun.It seems when some people become extremely upset or angry all rational thought is left behind and the only thing that person can think to do is let our their aggression and anger in whatever way is available.Actually, the science of rage would be an interesting topic for a blog.

  6. Can someone please explain to me what purpose handguns and assault rifles serve besides the argument of self-defense.Besides recreational activities (shooting them is fun and can be good practice for keeping defense skills sharp) none whatever. Seems to me I’ve only heard a handful of stories in my life of guns being used in self-defense and yet have heard of at least ten-fold more stories like VA Tech or of a child at home shot by himself or his sibling.What you hear is a function of who you listen to. Time Warner, for example, had (has?) an editorial policy to never depict the use of a firearm by a private citizen in a positive light. Even in a sensational story you won’t hear it: for example with the Pearl Mississippi shootings — as I recall about 500 news stories told that the vice principal confronted the kid and stopped him. Only about two dozen of them mentioned the vice principal’s .45. (Which by the way was not fired and so the Brady Center or whatever they’re calling themselves this week don’t recognize it as a use of the firearm. This is how they skew their statistics to scare everyone off the mere idea of self-defense.) If you don’t believe me, do your own Lexis-Nexis search and see for yourself how media bias works.Stop while I call the police does not have the same effect on a criminal as Stop or I’ll shoot. Firearms are used between 1 and 2 million times a year by private citizens to protect lives and property, almost always without firing a shot. The range of the estimate has to do with estimation methodologies. It seems we are doomed to repeat this discussion every fifteen years or so.

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