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Treat firearms as a matter of public health

News Graphic - 11/22/2017

Perhaps a way out of the never-ending, seemingly deadlocked gun debate is to treat it not as a "rights" issue but rather as a public health issue. This was suggested in recent New York Times editorials and Pew Research Center studies. As of today, gun violence is the eighth-leading cause of death (suicides included) in the United States.

The statistics are staggering: we lose someone every 15 minutes to gun violence. In addition, more Americans have died from gun violence, including suicide, since 1970 (1.4 million), than in all wars in American history dating back to the Revolutionary War. And, tragically, in a typical year, more preschoolers are shot dead (75) than police officers.

If we look at deaths due to gun violence the same way we look at deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents, we may be able to save thousands of lives. Since we began regulating motor vehicles in 1946, we have been able to reduce deaths by more than 120 percent. We already have evidence that tighter gun laws and regulations have reduced homicide rates in some cities by almost 40 percent. Studies also show that more guns in a household do not make it safer ? rather the risk of injury and death increases.

Polls show that 71 percent of Americans believe that tighter laws and regulations would not interfere with Second Amendment rights and 96 percent favor tighter background checks. Another 86 percent favor initiating and enforcing background checks at gun shows, which are currently unregulated. Seventy-nine percent favor a ban on "bump-stocks" as well as reinstituting the ban on assault weapons. Seventy-five percent favor a ban to people convicted of a violent crime and 89 percent favor preventing mentally ill people from buying guns.

We live in a democracy where, in most cases, the majority opinion should translate into desired changes. Lives are at stake. The public health is a stake. Why doesn't this happen? It doesn't happen because the gun industry and its powerful lobby, the NRA, have control of Congress. Why do we continue to allow one industry and its lobbyists to overrule the majority opinion of American citizens?

The NRA's agenda of less regulation and more guns will only lead to more carnage. It is the gun industry that benefits from the status quo. It is the gun industry that reaps the economic benefits as gun sales soar after every mass shooting. It is the gun industry that floods our society with an endless supply of guns. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners Magazine, demonstrates in a recent article how the gun industry and the NRA enable domestic terrorism.

Congress must listen to the will of the majority of its citizens, not to the NRA. Perhaps approaching this issue as a public health issue is a way. We will not be able to eliminate all deaths any more than we can eliminate all motor vehicle-related deaths. But we can certainly dramatically reduce the number of deaths. Failure to act is to be complicit in the carnage.

Michael J. Weber is a retired engineer, teacher and former community columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and president of the Los Toros Foundation. His email address is mjwbruno@yahoo.com. He lives in Saukville.


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