Gun Violence Can Be Reduced

I wish to express my appreciation for the editorial, "Who is really to blame?" (FJ June, Among Friends, on the shootings at Virginia Tech in April). I think that this is a well-thought-out article that correctly identifies many of the causes and symptoms of this epidemic of violence in the United States. Although I am not a Friend, I am in agreement with a good many Quaker views concerning violence in this country.

One of the rhetorical questions posed was, "How can such a thing happen?" The question I would pose is, "How can this type of thing not happen again in the United States?" The country is deluged with firearms of all types, many of which are rapid-fire devices capable of causing a lot of damage. This fact, combined with the tendency of a good many citizens to adopt an almost paranoid sense of self-protection following any report of a mass act of violence or terror, probably sets the stage for such a thing to happen again. In addition, the reduction in government support for mental health programs does nothing to improve the situation.

I was amazed at the public response to the outbreak of mass violence at Virginia Tech. Instead of doing something positive like pushing through stringent handgun bans, as was done in various foreign countries following this type of incident, there was much talk about the signs of grief, and later about improving mental health checks during the gun purchase process. Although there is a place for both of these responses, they serve to divert attention from the need for much more meaningful measures in order to initiate the process of reducing gun violence in this country.

For any attempt to reduce gun violence in the U.S. to be successful, the following points should be publicized:

  • Handguns are violence-amplifying devices. They can make spur-of-the-moment incidents of one-on-one rage either more destructive or turn them into extended multi-person destructive episodes.
  • Guns increase the probability that innocent bystanders will be involved in a violent event, as seen in many drive-by shootings.
  • Carrying a firearm does not in itself guarantee personal safety, as indicated by the number of law enforcement personnel who have been killed by firearms.
  • Any type of background check in the purchase of firearms is of limited usefulness. The majority of people with mental illnesses would at some point in their lives have been considered normal, and could have purchased firearms then.
  • There are no magical reasons why countries such as Germany, England, France, Canada, and Sweden have much lower per-capita rates of gun violence. The simple reason is that handguns are not around in those countries to facilitate the process.
  • The concept of "just another gun violence massacre" should be examined and found unacceptable. Even if only one person dies needlessly in this country because of the ready availability of handguns, that is one person too many. Too many members of the news media use sensational coverage to boost their profits and avoid confronting this issue.
  • There is an inherent dishonesty in the way that the public relates to violence in this country. On the one hand, heroes on various TV shows blow away "bad guys," and numerous teenagers spend much time emulating the example in video games. On the other hand, we rarely see coverage of either the disfigurement of people in real life or the extensive rehabilitation following the use of these firearms.
  • We are equal participants in the social contract. If something horrendous happens to someone needlessly, it could happen to you or me next time. There are far too many people around who seem to believe that it’s okay as long as it doesn’t happen to them. Was it Martin Luther King Jr. who said, "If you’re not part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem"?
  • The National Rifle Association should not be permitted to dictate the rules concerning this matter that affects all of us. The fact that annually thousands of citizens die needlessly as a result of these actions should set the stage for a redefinition of the second amendment that is consistent with the good of present-day U.S. citizens. For starters, no one in this country should be permitted to carry a concealed weapon. Maybe in the meantime, anyone who owns a firearm should be placed in an assigned risk insurance group, whose rate would be higher than that of the rest of us to cover the financial costs associated with the aftermath of gun violence events.
  • There is a real need to develop heroes and role models who are peacemakers and not avengers.
  • Conflict resolution should be taught from an early age in all schools in the United States.
  • Ethics should also be taught from a very early age in all schools in the United States. I am not talking about religious training per se, but rather, making students aware that justice and fairness are concepts of the common good.

I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts on this very important matter. Keep up the good work.

Paul Schweri
Chicago, Ill.