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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 3:01 am | Overcast 54º


Toni Wellen: Gun Violence Can — and Should — Be Prevented

The population of Roseburg, Ore., has tragically joined the group of Americans mourning the loss of precious lives to gun violence. The community, and especially Umpqua Community College, will never be the same as numbing grief and profound sorrow enfolds the community.

Toni Wellen
Toni Wellen

For the literally thousands of Americans who have lost loved ones to gun violence, each of these deadly horrific acts reopens wounds that never really heal. It is with profound sadness that we extend our condolences to the families and the people of Roseburg.

Prayers and tears are not enough, however. Every American needs to wake up to this scourge of gun violence because it affects us all.

This year there have already been 294 mass shootings that have ended 375 lives and injured more than 1,000 Americans. Each year, 30,000 Americans die from gun violence.

Still, gun advocates continue to speak of what they believe are their Second Amendment rights, calling for more guns and concealed guns.

The Second Amendment states: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

“Well-regulated” means regulations on firearms, and does not infringe upon anyone’s Second Amendment rights. We have laws regulating everything in this country, why would firearms be exempt?

The U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that the amendment protects only a limited right and does not mean “any gun, anywhere, anytime.” Congress refuses year after tragic year to pass a single law that would protect Americans from gun death and injury.

The following facts tell us that in mass shootings and gun homicides, whether the gun was legally purchased or not, the killer is frequently, until that moment, a law-abiding firearm owner pulling the trigger on a lawfully held gun:

» In the 16 deadliest mass shootings in Europe, 86 percent of the victims were shot by a licensed shooter.

» In at least 29 mass gun killings in the United States, 139 people were killed by gun owners with hidden handgun permits.

» In 16 mass shootings in Australia and New Zealand, 55 percent of the victims were shot by licensed gun owners using legally held firearms. (Source: Philip Alpers, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney)

Common-sense solutions to our gun violence epidemic are supported by most Americans — policies like universal background checks (88 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans in a July 2015 Pew Research Center poll), an assault weapons ban, a limit on ammunition clips and gun violence protective orders.

Nearly 80 percent favor laws that would prevent the mentally ill from buying guns. But existing federal background checks prevent relatively few of the these disturbed people from buying guns. Many states do not send mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database because of lack of funding.

So emotionally disturbed people are able to buy a gun, if not in their home state then in the state next door.

The most helpful strategy to prevent the mentally ill from having firearms is to give family members, law enforcement and mental health professionals, who often know better than anyone else when someone’s mental state is deteriorating, an avenue to separate that person from any firearm.

California’s new Gun Violence Restraining Order law passed six months after the 2014 Isla Vista massacre, will do just that. Similarly, “A Pause for Safety” legislation introduced by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both California Democrats, awaits action in Congress.

Blaming mental health and doing nothing is unconscionable.

We must demand change and we can’t give up. Richard Martinez, who lost his son, Chris, at Isla Vista, was asked when he would give up fighting for better gun laws. He replied, “When I’m dead.”

President Barack Obama said after the Oregon shooting, “This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America.  We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”

Take action in your own community today! The nonprofit Coalition Against Gun Violence (CAGV) needs committed people who want to work on gun violence prevention. Contact and join CAGV, a grassroots organization actively working for nonviolence and educating the community since 1994.

Click here for more information about the Coalition Against Gun Violence, or email [email protected].

— Toni Wellen is chairwoman of the Coalition Against Gun Violence.

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