Background: Holiday seasons bring added stress to the lives of many families. Occasionally, that stress ends in injury or death. Although the holidays may not have been the precipitating factor in the recent acts of violence, the juxtaposition certainly put a damper on feelings of joy and good will.
Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg promise to toughen New York’s gun laws, which are already the toughest in the nation. As a result, the Empire Page would foster discussion of what should or should not be done in response to these events and to the use of guns by suicides, gangs and criminals.
Some have suggested a database of mental health patients is part of the solution, although such would not have prevented the tragedies in Newtown or Webster given that the guns used by Adam Lanza were legally purchased by his mother and a neighbor reportedly obtained the guns used by William Spengler in Webster New York.
The NRA has been lambasted in the media for suggesting that greater security in schools is called for, but even the ultra liberal Michael Moore admits that what stops a deranged person from killing more innocent victims is someone showing up with a gun.
To start the discussion, the Empire Page invited a number of people to comment on what should be done in NYS relative to gun control. If you would like us to consider publishing your ideas, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact information. If you want to comment on one of the following statements, there is a comment form at the bottom of the page.
The following comments are published in the order received.
Richard Ottalagano, Supervisor, Fulton County:
As always, lawmakers overreact to any disaster with new laws that will be more cumbersome and unenforceable than the current unenforceable laws. Just look at Leander's Law as a prime example of this.
My feeling is that in New York more handgun training time be applied, and live firing under supervision be required. When I went to get the required training from a law enforcement officer for my pistol permit I was shocked to realize that I knew more about when and where to shoot than he did. (Clear fields of fire). My little bit of military training and my hunter safety course for the big game license had me prepared to use a handgun. Let's face it, most people buying a handgun are getting it for self defense. Would you like to be in a crowed situation with a well meaning licensed hand owner, with limited training, shooting at a crazed gunman? Look at the recent shootout in NY City, when not one round from the preps' gun was found in the nine people wounded, all were police rounds! Most people think that the weapon allegedly used in Newtown was an assault weapon. It wasn't. It was a Simi-automatic that looked like a M-16. I agree assault weapons should be only in the hands of the police and military, and magazine size restricted to ten rounds.
Mark Alese, Former, Exec. Dir., NYS Chapter, National Assoc. of Independent Business:
I've had a long time to think about this issue as I have a child with Bipolar syndrome who has been hospitalized a dozen times in the past ten years, and recently spent two months in jail (a first) for resisting arrest while in a manic state. My wife and I have endlessly researched what to do and how to access medical help for our son, and have found that there is no mental health system anywhere, just a jumble of discordant programs and laws that leave families largely helpless even when they want to help, and the mentally ill subject to piecemeal, inadequate care and treatment, and sometimes left to the cruelty of an ignorant jailor. That it took another senseless killing spree to bring the subject of mental illness to our consciousness is telling. There are two subjects to address; one is how to mitigate the violence once it begins, and the other is how to prevent it in the first place.
As usual, the talking heads on television and newspaper editorialists mostly have it wrong. New York and the nation should respond to the killings in Newtown, Connecticut principally by examining how to better address the treatment of the mentally ill, and secondarily, if at all, by looking at gun control laws. The easy answer is to focus on gun laws, and it is the wrong answer. Guns, like illegal drugs, can be had for the asking in any American city and no new laws are going to change that. Chicago has the toughest gun laws possible. Yet in 2012, some 500 people were murdered there by guns. And the problem isn't assault rifles or magazine capacity. Assault rifles are just rifles by another name; they are not automatic weapons (which are illegal to own) and are no more deadly than a handgun. Carrying a pistol and a dozen clips of bullets is just as deadly efficient as an assault rifle's high capacity magazine, especially when your targets are little children and unarmed teachers.
I think that a thorough background check should be mandatory in all gun transactions, even at gun shows and in private sales despite the fact that enforcement will remain problematic. But by far the best way to mitigate the next Newtown is to train and arm a few teachers or staff at every school. They do this in Israeli schools and we should too. Waiting for the police to arrive, then waiting longer while they assess, then waiting some more while they bring in specialized teams is simply going to assure that more innocents are going to be slaughtered. The only way to stop an armed madman or terrorist bent on destruction is to meet him head-on with an equal or greater armed force. Having that capability on site will save the most lives.
Guns in schools is a shocking concept to many people and they emotionally reject it without thought. It may come as a surprise, but we've come to this pass of our own doing. It isn't that guns that are the problem, it's the kind of society we've allowed to develop around us, all under the vocal advocacy of liberal elites who control the media and the universities, under the banner of a liberal society that must be nonjudgmental and progressive. When no one with any influence upon the culture is willing to protest the fact that Hollywood routinely produces trash that desensitizes people to pornographic violence, we only accelerate the decline of civilization and breed greater numbers of nihilistic materialists. The same goes for Rap music and video games; both are mostly vile and violent, and engaged with for hours on end by millions of children, many of whom are being inadequately raised in one-parent households (now accepted as the norm) who attend sub-standard schools (also accepted as the norm). All of this came about because of decisions we've made or had made for us by liberal elites who comprise today's informal ruling class. They don't rule by threat of excommunication, exile, torture or death as they once did, but by means that are just as culturally powerful, and clearly just as effective. Oppose them and be banished to the margins along with your ideas. So, for the most part we simply acquiesce and accept a society without standards, limits or norms, and encourage everyone to do their own thing to find happiness. This is bad enough for relatively healthy well-educated people and obviously does not bring about happiness, but for the mentally ill it exacerbates their problems and sometimes leads to an explosion of violence.
With respect to what New York can do to prevent the kind of gun violence that happened in Newtown, it seems to me the answer is to focus on addressing the needs of the growing number of people whose mental health is impaired and made worse by the bad laws and the new norms evolving in 21st century society. In a rudderless, permissive, increasingly family-less society such as ours, more people find their hold on mental health is weak and foundering. They need our help.
Although my list of things that the government should do is much shorter than most people's, I am the first to say that caring for the truly helpless and truly needy is of paramount concern. The mentally ill are often helpless victims that need government's assistance to assure that they get the healthcare they need. They are born victims of their brain chemistry and are further victimized by a society that ignores them when it doesn't vilify them. Today, when it is clear that a mentally ill person is in need of hospitalization and medical care, we allow laws embodying misguided notions of civil liberties to create an invented right to refuse treatment (as though a madman were competent to make such a decision in the first place). To prevent another Newtown, and to be humane to the mentally ill, too, we need legislation that at least allows family members to compel hospitalization when an acute psychotic break occurs or is in progress. And it follows from that, that much more money will need to be spent on hospital in-patient care for acute mental illness, with social workers to follow-up and monitor the taking of meds, and therapists to help people to develop healthy habits and stay employed. We also need to train police officers to deal with the mentally ill properly and provide the same for guards in county jails where the mentally ill can be badly mistreated and left unmedicated for months under the current laws, if they refuse medication and no hospital bed is open.
Addressing the core needs of the mentally ill in New York (and elsewhere) is the responsibility of a humane society, and it is the best way to prevent people from losing their grip on reality, getting a gun, and imitating the violence that permeates the popular culture we tolerate and the society we've created. This is our problem, and we must address it together.
Shakesha Coleman, education policy analyst:
Interestingly, the only time I recall NYS experiencing massive violence that involved guns occurred at SUNY Albany on December 14, 1994, when a student named Ralph Tortorici--angry about administrative matters--attempted to hold a lecture center full of people hostage. (I was a bright-eyed college freshman at the University at that time.) Most agreed that Tortorici had a mental health issue. What other incidents have occurred in NYS that would make gun control legislation necessary here?
Tortorici, Lanza, and all of the other recent perpetrators of violence had one thing in common--their diminished mental health statuses. The only type of legislation that will correct this issue is legislation designed to ensure the implementation of preventive mental health services. Gun control legislation is not necessary. Tons of upstate New Yorkers have guns in their homes because they hunt. When these gun owners are upset by a day's circumstances or interactions, they do not think to pull the gun hanging in their homes off of its rack and shoot those that are offensive to them. They typically know better. Most people with access to guns do. This, then, is a mental health issue.
We need to do a better job of equipping our residents--particularly our youth--with coping skills. Let's use the money it would cost to implement the proposed gun control legislation to study the correlation between the onset of mass murder attempts with the proliferation of the idea that "everybody gets a trophy." Thanks to our attempts to compensate for losses in our own childhoods, we're raising generations of children that cannot be told "no." We do everything in our power to make sure they never know what it feels like to wipe tears from their eyes. Then, when we're not around to do so, they crack under the slightest pressure.
Look at the ages of most of the perpetrators. Tortorici was 26 when he pulled a knife and gun(s) on the lecture center of people at the University at Albany. He was angry because he did not get what he wanted at the financial aid office. (During his attempt to hold the lecture center hostage, he sent students to the financial aid and Registrar's office. (Pbs.org, Retrieved 12/28/12; Use this link.)
Lanza was 19. He may have been suffering from the trauma of having experienced his parents' divorce, and was said to have been angry at the prospect that he was going to be committed to a psychiatric institution. Now look at when the "Everybody Gets A Trophy" era began. We can expect more violence from kids born after 1985--and anyone else who grows up with a sense of entitlement and lacks coping skills. Obviously, this is not a mark against people born after 1985. The point is that some children born after this time may be particularly vulnerable to mental health issues due to various parenting nuances.
Absolutely, we should be in the business of shielding our children from uncomfortable and harmful experiences, since children do not ask to be born--but there has to be some balance. The lack of balance our children are growing up with is causing them to have diminished coping skills. Many studies have proven the correlation between coping skills and the onset of mental health issues. Redirect the attention given to gun control legislation to efforts to study and improve mental health statuses.
Shakesha Coleman has completed graduate work in public policy, education, social work, and law. She has contributed book reviews and editorials to the Empire Page. She has also contributed to the education section of Examiner.com.
Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of Hunger Action Network of NYS:
Pointing out in 1982 that John Lennon probably would still be alive if he had lived in his home country of England or his wife's nation of Japan generated the most media coverage I received in my race for Congress.
The NRA repeated the normal mantra that people, not guns, kill people. So we have spent thirty years not getting guns off the street but enacting tougher laws to punish people after they do bad things with guns. The end result - more guns are used to kill more people.
There was some brief flurry around handgun control after President Reagan was nearly assassinated. A few reforms were enacted. Back to business as usual.
Now we are discussing whether it would make sense to stop allowing people to possess automatic weapons whose only real purpose it to kill a lot of people really fast.
When I was in law school in the mid-1970s those who thought the 2nd amendment gave individuals the right to own guns were generally dismissed as the lunatic fringe. That legal argument had been repeatedly rejected by the courts for more than 300 years.
It is disturbing, though expected, that those who attack “activists judges who treat the constitution as a living document that adjusts to the changing times” don't decry what has happened to the 2nd amendment. 350 years ago things like electricity, trains, cars, planes, indoor toilets, computers, the telegraph, the Pill, etc. had not been invented. Hard to expect the founding fathers to establish clear legal doctrines for things that not only didn't exist but would have been viewed as magic.
Guns did exist however when the constitution was written. Granted, far fewer people owned guns at the time of the American revolution than they do now. And those who did own guns back then were far more likely to use them to feed their families than present gun owners. The guns that did exist would take a minute or so to reload between shots; not the semi-automatic weapons used today can shoot hundreds of bullets in a minute.
But the founding fathers did not include guns in the original constitution,
The 2nd Amendment was part of the much maligned Bill of Rights that the states required to be added before they agreed to sign on the dotted line. And the states were very clear about what they were doing with the 2nd Amendment. The states gave themselves the right to arm their own militia without the need for the permission of the federal government. And the states only gave themselves the right to arm a militia – citizens were not given the right to raise their own militias. Granted, a few states went further in their own state constitutions with respect to the right to gun ownership – but not in the federal constitution. And much of the initial debate (and drafts) in Congress was over the definition of a militia and including language to protect the right of individuals to refuse to be forced to bear arms in a militia if it violated their religious principles.
In the decades after the 2nd amendment was adopted, the few militias that were created – the public generally being opposed to standing armies – were generally armed with clubs rather than guns.
But lets put aside the discussion of how the radical right and the NRA have been able to overturn three centuries of legal precedence to rewrite the 2nd amendment. The 2nd Amendment may be the most stark example of how our present Supreme Court has rewritten legal history to reflect their political biases but it is not the only one.
Why has Congress, whose members until recently used to compete to see who was the strongest law and order candidate, been willing to allow an epidemic of gun violence to flourish in the country often over the opposition of law enforcement agencies whom they otherwise rush for photo ops with?
The answer is a lack of courage among politicians, for whom winning the next election is invariably more important than what is best for the future of the country. The bottom line is that while many Americans want gun control, it has not been an issue that has risen to a level where they will vote against a politician who fails to take action. And while there may only be 5% of the voters who will vote against a politician solely for supporting gun control, this 5% is concentrated in enough districts – usually rural and conservative – that they are effectively able to control a large enough voting bloc in Congress to block action.
So the public – not politicians – are the only ones that can't give us gun control. And it will have to be done against a rogue US Supreme Court and a spineless, gridlocked Congress.
I won't waste time discussing banning semi-automatic assault weapons since it is disgrace that they have been allowed. And the loopholes for gun shows is another disgrace. Sales between individuals, under federal law, do not require a background check. This means that felons can “lie and buy” at gun shows and other places where guns are readily available. More than 40% of gun purchases occur this way.
There are around 300 million guns in the US. About 100 million are handguns. There is a gun in between 40 to 45% of all American households. About 2/3 of the 16,000 killings in the US each year are done by guns. More than 30 Americans are killed every day by guns. Unless laws are change, an estimated 46,000 Americans will be killed by guns during President Obama's second term.
There have been 61 mass murders in the US since 1982. Guns legally obtained were used in 49 of them. Over a million people have been killed with guns in the US since 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated
The firearm homicide rate in the US is 19.5 times higher than in other high income countries (are overall homicide rate is 6.9 times higher).
A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting, a criminal assault or homicide, or an attempted or completed suicide than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense. A 2009 study found that people in possession of a gun are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault. There are five times as many deaths from gun assaults as from knife assaults, where the rates of assault with knives and with guns are similar
In the U.S, children under 15 commit suicide with guns at a rate of eleven times the rate of other countries combined. More Americans were killed with guns in the 18-year period between 1979 and 1997 (651,697), than were killed in battle in all wars since 1775 (650,858). States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths (however, this correlation is not true for mental illness).
Despite all this. according to the Gallup Poll, support for stricter gun control laws has fallen from 78% in 1990 to 44% in 2010.
Sarah Brady started the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence after her husband was shot in the attempt on President Reagan's life. Here is part of her recent blog:
“Most Americans don't know how weak our guns laws are. Gun owners aren't licensed. Guns aren't registered. Why not? Because the NRA said so. The Brady Law, named for my husband after he was shot in the 1981 attempt to assassinate President Reagan, required background checks for gun purchases from licensed gun dealers. Most private sales, including those at gun shows, don't require background checks. That's insanity. The background check system needs to be improved to insure that all prohibited purchasers are, in fact, prohibited from obtaining and possessing firearms. And, yes, we need a real ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and on magazines of more than ten rounds.”
Every few years we have a new gun massacre of unspeakable horror that makes it seems like it will finally break the log jam over gun control. Change however is never easy, especially when so many profit from selling guns. Polls after Newtown showed that support for gun control has increased – but only to 55%. Support for the NRA is at similar levels.
Let's hope that Vice-President Biden, a long time advocate of gun control, makes the most of this opportunity.
One reader suggests the following articles on the subject:
Doctors say gun lobby has restricted gun violence research: http://americannewsreport.com/doctors-say-gun-control-is-a-public-health-issue-8817303