Gun Violence Steals the Gift of Life

~ By Robin Avery ~

It’s an incredible achievement to exist. Once born, our deepest and most basic instinct is to remain in existence. A combination of food, water, oxygen, protection from the elements, and periods of rest allow us to remain alive. Naturally, time makes all these survival mechanisms insufficient, but time isn’t the topic of this column.

In the Unites States we’re witnessing an extreme form of aggression due to gun violence. There is an absolutely shocking level of senseless tragedy associated with this violence. In 2010, guns took the lives of 31,076 Americans in homicides, suicides and accidental shootings. That’s more than 85 deaths each day. More than three deaths each hour. As a society we’ve become weaponized, militarized, polarized, angry and numb. Numb! It’s a madness that feeds upon itself, and it has to stop.

Facts and statistics should help us find ways to stop the violence.

  • An abusive partner’s access to a firearm increases the risk of intentional homicide eightfold for the woman.
  • Domestic violence involving intentional firearms is twelve times more likely to result in a death compared to non-firearm incidents.
  • Women in the United States are intentionally murdered by intimate partners or former partners approximately nine times more often than they are murdered by strangers.
  • Abusive relationships coupled with access to a firearm are the large part of the problem. Every day, three women are murdered by their men. These are not gun accidents.

In theory, federal law prohibits those have been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence or are subject to a permanent restraining order from owning a gun. But in reality, states lack the enforcement mechanisms to get guns out of the hands of abusers.

Aside from homicides, the intentional gun deaths, the number of accidental firearm deaths is also staggering. Tragically, unintentional shootings most often involve children. Eighty-nine percent of accidental shooting deaths occur when children play with a loaded gun in their parents’ absence.

Whether intentional or accidental, the sudden loss of a wife, a husband, a son or daughter, a friend or relative is utterly devastating. And a gun, in the wrong hands at the wrong time, under the wrong circumstances can make it happen in a heartbeat. Take Eric Teichman for instance.

Englishman Eric Teichman was the stuff of legend. Teichman was “one of British diplomacy’s dashing characters; a flamboyantly enigmatic explorer-cum-special agent.” Before World War I, his fact-finding missions took him by truck across Central China. In 1935 he traveled from the trackless and warlord chaos stricken Tarim basin in North West China to Kashgar, and there by pony and foot across the Pamir and Karakoram ranges to Gilgit, and then to New Delhi. This and subsequent journeys were incredible odysseys, with dangers, threats and perils barely imaginable. But Eric survived because of his intelligence, his courage, his diplomacy and an array of other skills. Finally, he flew back to England, where a few days after arriving, at the age of 60, he was killed.

On December 3, 1944, while at home at Honingham Hall, his estate in Norfolk, England, Teichman heard the sound of gunfire nearby. He went out to confront two poachers who were trespassing on the grounds of his estate. Both intruders were American soldiers based at a nearby USAAF airfield, and each was armed with an M1 carbine. Sir Eric was shot in the head and died instantly. After a life of impossible risk and adventure, he was killed in his own back yard, on his own property. He never had a chance. Guns upend the natural order of things.

We can do better. There are decisions we can make, policies we can implement, and technology’s we can deploy to reduce gun violence. Automobile safety can guide us to gun safety. While the first decade of this century saw the number of vehicle miles traveled increase by 8.5%, because of safety laws and safety technology, the first decade also saw auto deaths decline.

During that same decade, our efforts to reduce the number of deaths from gun violence failed. The NRA pressured Congress to muzzle public healthresearch related to gun violence and its prevention. Consequently, progress on one of this country’s major public health crises became paralyzed. The cost of inaction has been high.

Treating gun violence as a public health issue appears to be the best approach. Public health researchers have identified risk factors that make people more likely to misuse firearms. Prior violent crimes and the abuse of alcohol lead the list. These studies demonstrate that the following groups are at a significantly higher risk of committing firearms-related crimes; yet, these same groups are not prohibited by federal law from purchasing guns:

  • Those who have been convicted of violent or firearms-related misdemeanors;
  • Those with a history of abusing alcohol;
  • Those convicted of juvenile offenses.

Some, but not all, states have expanded their firearms eligibility criteria:

  • 23 states prohibit gun possession by at least some violent or firearms-related misdemeanants;
  • 20 states prohibit gun possession by at least some alcohol abusers;
  • 27 states prohibit gun possession by at least some juvenile offenders.

Mental health is also a significant issue in gun violence. Although several states have broadened the category of mentally ill persons who are prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms, we can do better. We can expand the temporarily disqualifying factors relating to mental illness and gun access, including identifying and reporting threats of violence, being held for treatment for mental illness, or being on medications for anger control and certain other conditions. Suicide by firearm, especially among the elderly, will be the topic of a future column.

A universal comprehensive background check requirement could help prevent those who are a danger to others from easily procuring a gun. The private-party gun market has long been recognized as a leading source of guns used in crimes. Some 17 states have enacted laws that require a background check before some private firearm sales. In fact, in 2013 alone, five states, Colorado, Connecticut,Delaware, Illinois, and New York, adopted “universal background check” laws which require a background check for every sale of a gun. We applaud Colorado and these other states for enacting reasonable gun laws. These laws hold great potential for reducing gun deaths and injuries. And we can do better.

And yes, doctors should be able to speak with their patients about the health dangers of guns! Incredibly, a few federal and state legislators have recently moved to prevent doctors from even talking to their patients about this critical health issue.

Last month marked the second anniversary of the mass shooting at the Century Theater in Aurora, where 12 people were killed and some 70 injured by a young white male (which begs the question what this country’s education, culture and economic system is causing young white males to go crazy). I have not forgotten. I will not forget. Nor should we. We need to continue to work towards peace in our communities, a respect for life, and an end this senseless gun violence.

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