Violence

This is a sobering weekend here in the United States.

The country is reeling from at least 49 mass shootings this month, as recorded by the Gun Violence Archive. I have to say “at least” because it could be more by the time I hit publish. This is in addition to all the shooting incidents with less than four victims and all the self-inflicted shootings, sometimes accidental but, sadly, most often deliberate. In the US, suicides have, for many years, constituted the majority of gun deaths. (If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or any other mental health crisis, please reach out for help. In the US, you can call or text 988 or visit this website: https://988lifeline.org/ any day/any time.)

As I’ve written about before, the United States needs to deal with gun safety issues, especially when it comes to military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, gun trafficking, poor licensing and training requirements in some states, and lack of comprehensive universal background checks. We need to vastly improve access to mental health care, on both humanitarian and violence-prevention grounds.

One of the stories that illustrates this need is the shooting of a first-grade teacher in Newport News, Virginia by one of her six-year-old students. She was seriously wounded but has survived. The boy was known to have been diagnosed with what has been termed by his family as an “acute disability” and is now being treated in a hospital. While this is a particularly stark example, many shootings, including mass shootings and suicides, are linked to mental health problems.

While guns are highly visible as a means of violence, videos released to the media on Friday illustrate that other means can be just as severe in causing injury, trauma, and death.

Security camera and police body camera footage showed the October 2022 break-in at the California home of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the subsequent attack on her husband, Paul, with a hammer. He was severely injured and is continuing his recovery. Besides being personal, this was also an act of political violence.

The country is also reacting to the shocking video of the police beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, which led to his death in the hospital three days later. Five officers were fired soon after the beating and have just been charged with several counts, including second degree murder. Two additional officers have been suspended while the investigation continues. Yesterday, the Memphis Police Department announced that the Scorpion Unit that had included the officers who carried out the attack has been permanently disbanded. The public gatherings in the wake of this horror have been almost exclusively non-violent, as Tyre’s family has urged.

Sadly, there are a vocal few who use their power in the media to sow confusion – or even show support for those who perpetrate violence. Even with the release of the video, there were some still insinuating that Paul Pelosi knew his attacker and invited him into his home. Mind you, there is video of the attacker repeatedly bashing a glass door with a hammer in the middle of the night but these conspiracy-theory followers don’t let facts get in the way of their twisted beliefs. In so doing, they multiply the violence and harm.

What can we do?

Some of the things I try to do are live a non-violent life, seek out facts and relay them accurately, respectfully enter into dialogue, and advocate for public policy to reduce violence. Even though I am only one person, I know there are millions of others doing the same.

My hope is that more people will realize that both victims and perpetrators of violence could be their own family member, friend, or neighbor.

Each one deserving of care and concern.

The only way we can stop the violence is together.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/29/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-28th-2023/.

again and again and again

I didn’t want to write about mass shootings in the United States today. I’ve written way too many posts about this in the past, most recently about the Atlanta-area shootings last week.

But here we are again, mourning the deaths of ten people, including a responding police officer, at a Boulder, Colorado supermarket. A suspect is in custody, but it is early in the investigation so many details are not yet public.

It is likely that this will become the third Colorado mass shooting to lodge in the nation’s consciousness along with the high school in Columbine and the movie theater in Aurora.

The list of mass shootings in the United States is so long that only some of them are invoked as a litany. I live near Binghamton, New York, which suffered a 2009 mass shooting at the American Civic Association. This post that I wrote for the fifth anniversary of that shooting explains why I think Binghamton is not part of that litany.

There has long been a majority of the public in favor of taking measures nationally to curb gun violence. Some of the proposals are universal background checks to purchase firearms, limits on size of ammunition clips, banning of military-style assault weapons, and requiring gun licensing. At this point, each state has its own laws with some allowing municipalities to enact stricter regulations and others not.

There are also proposals to better diagnose and treat mental health issues. Some mass shooters, such as the one in Binghamton, suffer from mental illness. The biggest potential reduction in deaths from firearms related to mental health would be from self-inflicted shootings. In the United States, suicides account for the largest percentage of gun deaths every year. (For help with issues about suicide in the United States, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 orĀ https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ .)

What compounds the recent tragedies in Atlanta and Boulder, though, is that there will be sadness, outrage, prayers, vigils, fundraisers, and hopes that this will be the time when Congress finally takes action – and they won’t. Again.

And then, inevitably, there will be another mass shooting which gets attention and hundreds of other murders and thousands of suicides which won’t.

And the cycle will repeat.

another mass shooting

Another week, another horrific mass shooting in America.

Another post I did not want to have occasion to write.

As some of you know, I live in the Binghamton, New York area, which was the scene of a 2009 mass shooting at the American Civic Association. Because of this, I know that these crimes can happen anywhere in our country. We lost the sense of “it can’t happen here” years ago.

Every time there is another mass shooting, much of the public response seems the same. “It’s a mental health issue, not a gun issue.” (Unless it is Muslim shooter, in which case it is a terrorism issue, not a gun issue.) “It’s disrespectful to talk about gun control when people are in mourning.” Corollary: we can talk about gun control later, except that we as a country are always in mourning/recovery from a mass shooting because they happen so frequently, so the “appropriate time” for the discussion never arrives. “The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.” “The guns were all legally purchased.” “This (insert gun control proposal here) would not have stopped (insert particular mass shooting here) from happening.”

Enough. Time for a reality check.

The issue is complicated. It needs and deserves thoughtful analysis and strategies to prevent future incidences. It needs and deserves consistent attention from the public and from public officials, because it is about the health, safety, and well-being of individuals and the country.

Yes, the mental health treatment system in the United States needs to be more robust, affordable, and compassionate. The shooter at the ACA was known to be mentally ill; his father begged the state of New York not to issue him a gun license, but the laws at the time allowed it. To its credit, New York made some legal changes to tighten qualifications for gun licenses and accessories like high-capacity magazines. New York has also made mental health treatment more accessible, as has the Affordable Care Act on the national level. Anyone who is serious about preventing mass shootings and other forms of violence needs to be serious about funding outreach and access to mental health services.

This leads to discussion of another characteristic that many mass shooters share, a history of domestic abuse. It lends even more weight to the current growth in public awareness of how widespread sexual harassment and assault are in our society. Abuse of all sorts is at its roots an abuse of power. Firearms in the hands of an abuser multiply the destructive force to the victim/s. Yet, too often, perpetrators of domestic or sexual violence are not prevented from owning firearms and are not adequately treated for their mental health problems.

The second amendment to the US Constitution is usually quoted only in part, only about the right to keep and bear arms not being infringed. If one reads the whole amendment and looks at the historical context, it is clear that the intent of the framers had to do with militias, not an absolute individual right. In July of 2016, I had a guest viewpoint on gun control published in the local paper; you can read it here. I think it can help to consider other military arms at this point. Do you think the second amendment gives individuals the right to own a rocket-propelled grenade launcher or a nuclear missile? Those are “arms,” as well. Should a military assault rifle be considered differently?

…which leads to my next point. We need to look at what kind of guns and accessories are available for sale to the general public. Fully automatic weapons are banned, so why is it legal to sell bump stocks that make semi-automatics behave like fully automatic weapons? Hunting for game is an old and time-honored tradition and most people use hunting rifles for this purpose. Even for the minority of hunters who use assault-type weapons, it seems that high-capacity magazines are not necessary. If you need thirty bullets to take down your prey, you are not skilled enough be hunting. I think that weapons designed for military use should not be in the hands of civilians and hope that Congress will again consider an assault weapons ban.

There should be public health research about guns and gun violence. Federal funding for this kind of research has been highly restricted due to the gun lobby’s leverage with members of Congress. Sadly, the presence of a gun in a household increases the risk that someone in the household will die or be injured with a gun. There are many heart-breaking instances of children inadvertently killing a sibling or friend after finding and playing with a gun in their home. Most people do not know that the majority of gun fatalities in the United States are suicides. Obviously, this ties into the mental health topic as well, but I don’t think that people who buy a gun for protection realize that owning a gun increases the chances that someone in the household will be injured or killed by a gun instead of protecting against that. People need all of these public health facts to inform their decisions and viewpoints.

Today – and every day – are appropriate ones to discuss and work on issues surrounding gun violence. There is never a day when someone is not mourning death or injury by guns, whether through mass shootings or other crimes, accident, or suicide. This is not an insoluble problem; nearly every other country has managed to cut gun deaths to low levels per capita.

The United States can do it, too.

Let’s begin today.

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