Joshua Sparrow, MD co-authored this blog.
In my 50 years in practice, like most pediatricians, I lost children to diseases we didn't have treatments for yet. Like most pediatricians, those inescapable tragedies made me more committed than ever to preventing the ones that can be. I waited until this New Year to put in my two cents about Newtown because I don't want the talk about this preventable tragedy to stop until it leads to action. We've had too much talk already that hasn't accomplished a damn thing.
Even if we can't prevent all future mass murders, we can reduce their number with these three steps:
• an assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clip ban,
• an assault weapon buyback program, and
• tighter background checks wherever and however guns are sold.
These measures won't protect us entirely, but they've been effective in the U.S. in the past and in other countries in reducing shooting sprees and gun-related deaths. There is NO excuse for failing to do what we can and what we know works -- now.
Yes, we ought to be providing decent treatment for people with mental illness, as early as possible in their lives, and support for their families. Mental illness is still so stigmatized that many who suffer from it don't seek help, and their families often feel torn about seeking support. Mental health services are hard to find in most places, and often not covered adequately by insurers. In many states, budget cuts have recently gutted state mental health services. Often, such cuts are pushed by the same NRA-controlled politicians who won't do anything about the gun glut in this country. They point to the mentally ill as the problem, but won't do anything for them either.
Let's not allow mental illness to be further stigmatized by events like the Newtown tragedy, nor to distract us from the solutions that are closer at hand. It's a lot faster, easier, and cheaper to reduce the number of assault weapons in circulation than it is to identify, treat and contain the very small subgroup of people with mental illness who present a homicide risk. We need to do both, of course, but gun safety will make the difference sooner. Most Western democracies, including the U.S., have roughly the same incidence of mental illness. But all the others have vastly fewer guns in circulation, and far fewer mass murders.
In the U.S., we've had Tucson, Aurora, Oak Creek, Portland, Newtown and others -- all in the past 24 months. We can reduce the number of massacres here, but not with more "debate" or "solutions" from the NRA. It has disqualified itself from solving this problem. There is no evidence that more guns in schools will prevent mass murders -- armed police couldn't stop the Columbine calamity. But the U.S.'s roughly 100,000 public schools would give gun manufacturers a huge new market, and that's what they seek. Guns are durable goods, so sales fall once a market is saturated. Moving gun customers up to more expensive items such as assault weapons has helped sustain profits. But fewer Americans are buying guns as more move to urban areas.
The gun market is shrinking. The NRA does have a solution for this: more guns in schools. Will the NRA once again use gun manufacturers' money to twist politicians' arms, this time to get American taxpayers to pay for guns for every school in the country -- a corporate welfare hand out to their donors, the gun manufacturers?
The NRA only has four million members, but as a Washington insider, big-government lobbyist for the gun industry, its influence has been disproportionate. Now, after Newtown and too many other tragedies, political leaders, voters and law-abiding gun owners must insist that the NRA stop interfering with the policies we need to protect children's and other innocent people's lives.
Here's what you can do as a voter:
• Check your senators' and representatives' voting records.
• Find out whether they've accepted NRA money.
• Tell them what you think about this special interest group's opposition to proven, common sense protection for your children.
• Use Facebook, web sites and letters to your local newspapers to call out politicians who take NRA cash and block sensible safety legislation.
Here's what you can do if you have a pension plan or own stocks:
• Dump all stocks in assault weapons manufacturers, dealers, and the companies that own them.
• Insist that your employer's 401Ks and other pension plans sell off assault weapons manufacturers' and sellers' stock.
The California State Pension System has proposed divesting itself of gun company stocks. Class action lawsuits against the NRA and assault weapon manufacturers may help too, as they have against manufacturers of other dangerous consumer products.
Money and votes will have to talk for the children and teachers who no longer can. Our voices will have to speak louder to politicians than the NRA/gun manufacturer lobby's dollars do. Let's get gun safety done -- now -- before the next preventable mass murder of children splatters more blood on all of our hands. They are all our children.
Copyright 2013 by T. Berry Brazelton, MD and Joshua Sparrow, MD. All Rights Reserved.