09/20/2013 10:13 am ET Updated Nov 20, 2013

Washington Navy Yard Shooting Exposes a Failing System of Gun Safety


The Violence Prevention Coalition extends deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones of those killed by the latest shooting rampage in our nation's capital. We grieve with those who are touched by loss, and we also reaffirm the sanctity of the human spirit, and reassert our own personal and collective responsibility to push for positive change, to seek to prevent violence before it occurs.

As news stories dissect the mental health of the individual responsible, and try to parse his motive, I want to challenge us to stop focusing exclusively on blaming individuals. Trying to assign a motive is to miss the point. It focuses our attention on the ideal that somehow if all the individuals in the system behaved properly, the system would work instead of looking at the system itself. Every time there is an incident of gun violence, we are told that it is the fault of an individual. This is a distraction that keeps us from examining a failing system.

Gun violence is an epidemic in this country. That is not just a catch phrase, it is a philosophy. It's one that says that violence is an issue not of politics, or second amendment lawyering, but rather one of public health. Guns kill 80-90 people each day in this country. Homicide is the second leading cause of death for young men in Los Angeles County. If a disease were killing our young people at that rate, we would be using every tool in our tool box to do something about it.

If guns, in public health language, are the mosquitoes that carry the virus of violence, then gun laws are the mosquito nets. They are part of a comprehensive approach that includes vaccines, clean water, and treatment. To those who say gun laws have no effect, research shows that of the ten states with the strongest gun safety legislation, 7 have the lowest rates of gun deaths. And the gun issue is not just about the mass shootings that capture our attention in the news. More than half the young people who commit suicide with a firearm got that gun from their home.

Gun laws alone will not solve this, but they are a critical component of the systems change that is required. There is a package of gun violence prevention bills in front of the Governor right now. We can choose not to accept gun violence as part of our lives. We can, as we did with smoking, and seatbelts, say that we want our default setting to be one that supports positive, healthier choices. That we as a society reject the cost - the human, social, emotional, and financial cost -- of preventable gun violence.

Call the governor's office now (916-445-2841) and ask him to support the LIFE act, and the other common sense gun bills that have passed through our State Assembly and are awaiting his signature.