Sunday, September 19, 2021
Sept. 19, 2021

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Jayne: First step in gun debate is acknowledging problem

By , Columbian Opinion Editor
Published:

Can we talk about it? Now? Finally?

Can we discuss why mass shootings are a daily occurrence in this country? That’s not an exaggeration. As of the shooting in Roseburg, Ore., there had been 274 days in 2015 and, according to Mass Shooting Tracker, there had been 294 mass shootings (four or more people killed or wounded) in the United States. Which is only the third most head-scratching statistic of the past week, ranking behind this one: People ages 15 to 24 in this country are more likely to die by gunfire than in a car accident; and this one: There are more guns than people in the United States.

All of this, of course, follows in the wake of a gunman killing nine people at Umpqua Community College. That launched a predictable cycle of anger and recriminations and politicization and ultimately … nothing. Which I suppose is the biggest aggravation of all.

So let’s talk. Let’s talk about the insanity of America’s gun culture, the kind that led the Roseburg shooter’s mother to build an arsenal of weapons to which her mentally troubled son had access. Some reports have said she stocked up out of concern that President Obama would pursue gun-control legislation. Good idea; what could possibly go wrong?

Or let’s talk about a Congress that in 1996 passed legislation to prevent federal funding from being used to research gun violence. We spend millions studying the habitat of the sage grouse, but we can’t study gun violence? Does that make sense? Not to the man who wrote the legislation; former Rep. James Dickey, a Republican from Arkansas, last week told the Huffington Post: “I wish we had started the proper research and kept it going all this time. I have regrets.”

Or let’s talk about our mental health system, the one that will be essential to stemming the tide of mass shootings. Except that many of the people who are most concerned about the government coming to take their guns are the same people who are most opposed to an expansion of public health services such as Medicaid.

None of these discussions will completely prevent deranged people from shooting up a school or a theater or a church. But they are a good start. Because we have a problem in this country, and ignoring it is not an option. As Harold Pollack, a University of Chicago professor, wrote for The Washington Post: “Compared with other wealthy democracies, America has surprisingly similar rates of car theft, aggravated assault, and other forms of nonlethal violence. Our gun homicide rate is about three times the average among our peers.”

What should be done?

That is not OK. That is not acceptable. That should be appalling to anybody who likes to pretend that we are the most advanced nation in the world.

So let us start by allowing the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence. Is that so difficult? The reason behind the prohibition was, basically, that some people are afraid of what they might learn. Ignorance is bliss, I guess — until a crazy person with a gun shows up at your work place.

Beyond that, here are a couple ideas worthy of discussion:

One was posited by Jeffrey Zalles of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who suggested that purchasers of ammunition should be licensed, and that shells should be marked with a serial number that allows them to be traced. Would this prevent mass shootings? No. But over time it would slow the drip-drip-drip of daily street violence by allowing responsible gun owners to have ammo and making it more difficult for the bad guys to get some.

Another idea is to treat guns like we do automobiles. Require licenses and occasional license renewals and, most important, insurance — so that if somebody uses your gun for illegal purposes there is some accountability.

Would these solve the problem? Probably not, as I am sure plenty of readers will vociferously explain. But the first step is to admit that the United States has a problem, and that it is time for us to talk about it.

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