New York Needs to Do More to Curb Gun Violence
While the Governor and State Legislature deserve praise for their recent gun control legislation, the package will unfortunately not end the epidemic of gun violence in our communities.
The legislation included several critical reforms, such as mandating that all private sales of firearms be made through licensed gun dealers to ensure that background checks are performed. It also requires individuals who have a handgun license or have registered an assault weapon in New York State to recertify every five years. And President Obama's recent executive action includes other positive steps.
Yet far more work is needed at both the state and national level. One hopes that the rush to have New York to be the first in the country to take action in response to the Newton massacre doesn't override the need for the Governor and lawmakers to continue their work to solve the problem.
A couple of decades ago the fight for gun control focused on how to restrict access to handguns. Forty years ago the historian Richard Hofstader asked why "the United States alone among industrial societies [had clung] to the idea that a substantially unregulated supply of guns among its city populations is a safe and acceptable thing?"
The fact that the state's recent legislation focused heavily on assault weapons shows how far we have retreated in the effort to stop the gun killings. And how more violent and deadly our gun culture has become.
Handguns (as well as assault weapons) are primarily used to shoot at other people.
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. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has long cited the need for an effective government campaign to educate the public about the relative risks and benefits of gun ownership.
Nationwide, there are about 100 million handguns. There is a gun of some type 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. Every day there are 32 gun murders or 90 gun deaths in communities throughout the country.
Most Americans support the right of people of own guns for hunting, especially when it is to obtain food to feed their families. I am less supportive of the concept that people should be armed so they can kill other living beings for sport, a position I hope is shared by those who view life as sacred, a "gift from god." I recognize the argument that some wildlife hunting is a way to help cull herds to reduce the suffering from overpopulation that can lead to starvation - though that is nature's way of population control.
The recent spate of gun massacres has also focused more attention of the issue of how our society deals with the problem of mental health. While one certainly wants to reduce the access to guns by those with mental illness, the problem - and solution - are much larger than that. It is a scandal that the prison on Riker's Island is New York's largest mental health facility. Far more resources must be provided to treat mental illness rather than locking individuals up in prison due to the lack of effective intervention and support programs.
Improving the state's effort to treat mental illness will cost money. Such as more funding in the upcoming state budget.
More must also be done to address the culture of violence in society. America glorifies violence in our mass media, entertainment and political debate. The concept of solving disputes between individuals and countries through resorting to the brute use of power is hammered into us throughout our lives. There needs to be conscious efforts to change that.
One of the four pillars of the Green Party is the concept of nonviolence. I have always found that by far to be the most controversial part of the Green agenda.