Gun Rights Are Killing Us

The profusion of gun violence and mass shootings in America - whether by domestic terrorists or unhinged religious zealots - is spreading like wildfire and creating a pervasive sense of fear.   To many - regardless of social standing, race, religion, ethnicity or political beliefs - this country is beginning to feel unsafe.

Gun rights are killing us

The profusion of gun violence and mass shootings in America - whether by domestic terrorists or unhinged religious zealots - is spreading like wildfire and creating a pervasive sense of fear.   To many - regardless of social standing, race, religion, ethnicity or political beliefs - this country is beginning to feel unsafe. 

Even in the midst of the San Bernardino mass shooting last week that killed 14 people and wounded a score more, there were reports of another shooting death and injuries at a women’s health clinic in Houston, Texas. According to numerous news agencies, there have been 355 mass shooting incidents so far this year, and we still have several weeks until year’s-end.  

In the wake of this unending run of senseless murders, last week The New York Times asked readers on their blog how often, if ever, they thought about the possibility of a shooting incident occurring in their daily life.  The response was overwhelming. More than 5,000 readers wrote about the anxiety they felt at work, while taking public transportation, going to the movies, dropping their children off at school, and/or attending religious services.  While some said they never thought about the possibility of being caught up in a mass shooting, many others spoke of contemplating escape routes or emergency plans. Several owners of firearms said they believed they would be able to fight back if gunfire erupted near them which, by the way, is contrary to what most experts believe. Civilians wielding guns, even in defense, creates an increased risk of injury and interferes with police response.  The vast majority of those who responded to the blog indicated that the United States is becoming a scarier place than it once was. For the sake of brevity, following is an edited version of some of those responses:

 “Me and my friends talk about where we could hide [in our high school] if gunfire erupted.”  “Every time one of my students is unhappy with a grade or disagrees with me lately, I wonder if they’ll come back and shoot me.”  “I’m a nurse on night shift and catch myself thinking of what I would do if there was an active shooter at my hospital.   Where would I hide? What doors could we lock on such short notice? How do I keep me and my patients safe? It is alarming how often my mind wanders to such a nightmare in a place you should feel safest.”

Many responses were from parents who worried that their children could be injured or killed in a random burst of gunfire.  “I fear that someone I care about - particularly my daughter - will be in the wrong place at the wrong time ... attending school, or shopping, or going to the movies, and all of a sudden the day, and that life, ceases to be routine forever.”

From a teacher in Southern Connecticut: “I survived a shooting at the school where I work. Since then, I think about the potential for another incident almost daily.   I startle every time I hear a loud bang.  I unconsciously move quickly away from young men in trench coats, or people with backpacks who seem nervous. I have to resist the urge to race to my children’s school and yank them out of class every time I hear another mass shooting has happened. I am terrified.”

Many African-American readers wrote that they were more concerned with racism and possible violence at the hands of law enforcement than they were about mass shootings:  “I experience racism constantly, I’m fed up.”  “I think about it daily.  I’m a black woman from Chicago ... I’ve lost four close relatives to gun violence.”  “Gang violence occurs every single day, and poverty in my community is inescapable ... black and brown lives matter too.”

Anxieties about gun violence were more complex for many Muslim-Americans and Americans of South Asian or Middle Eastern origin.  “Simply put, I feel like someone is going to shoot me EVERYDAY.  Whether it be a crazy terrorist or another crazy guy that thinks I’m a terrorist and wants to take justice in his own hands.  Every time there’s a mass shooting, people stare me down when I enter public places as if I had something to do with it.  I do not feel safe on a daily basis. I have to keep my head down because people THINK I’m Muslim and treat me accordingly.”

And from a neighbor in Mahopac: “People say that it couldn’t happen here.  Of course it could, and did, less than 30 miles from here.  My kids are in kindergarten and second grade ... the loves of my life can be taken away ... how will I live with myself if something happens? I’m so scared. It’s heartbreaking. Why are guns more important than life? Where is our humanity?”

We can’t prevent all mass shootings, but, as a country, we can take steps to reduce both their frequency and severity, and make them more difficult to carry out. It’s time for people on the left, the right, and the middle to come together to put an end to a climate that enables mass murder and creates widespread fear. And, let me be perfectly honest, the only thing stopping this country from saving lives right now is Republican politics and the enormous moneyed influence of the NRA.

None of the Republican candidates presently running for president have offered any kind of policy solution, other than prayer, to address the exploding gun violence in this country. Not only is this response insufficient, it’s a pathetic dodge from considering responsible gun laws.  House Republicans won’t even allow a vote on a bill to keep known terrorists and those on the terrorist watch list from having legal access to assault weapons. 

Each of the Democrats running for president – Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley - wants to address gun laws, and the public strongly agrees with them that we need to do something.  According to a recent Gallup Poll, fifty-five percent of Americans say they want laws covering the sale of firearms to be stricter than they are now, a distinct rise of eight percentage points from 2014.

The next time you go to the ballot box, vote for the candidates who are willing to take responsibility for our future safety and fight the gun lobby head-on.   Vote for candidates who will legislate to: Expand background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the dangerously mentally ill.  Renew the assault weapons ban, and end the sale of high capacity magazines.  Close loopholes in our laws that allow perpetrators of stalking and dating violence to buy guns. Close the loophole that allows prohibited purchasers to buy a gun without a completed background check after a three-day waiting period expires. Pass federal gun trafficking laws. Increase penalties for straw purchasers who buy guns from licensed dealers on behalf of a prohibited purchaser.  And, expand and improve our mental health services (over 21,000 firearm suicides occur every year) so that people who need care can get it.

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