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home : opinion : opinion November 24, 2015

1/21/2013 11:42:00 AM
Editorial Reducing violence requires good data

While I am a staunch supporter of government action to alleviate the problem of firearm violence in the United States, I don't think rushing major changes without data to support the changes is a good solution. Good data on firearm violence in the U.S. is not available, thanks to the success of NRA lobbyists in persuading Congress to ban collection by federal agencies of any data regarding the misuse of firearms.

In the meantime, it is clear that too many of the solutions being proposed have not been thought through.

Take for instance, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," the NRA mantra for solving gun violence in our schools. Think about it.

Police officers receive extensive firearm training so they will be prepared to be the "good guy with a gun" who "stops a bad guy with a gun." How well does the training work?

John Davies, a 35 year-old Lakewood Colorado police officer was in full dress uniform when he was shot to death by fellow officers, responding to a report of shots being fired in a residential suburb of Denver, on November 9, last year. It reportedly happened because there was confusion among the law enforcement officers.

Closer to home, there is the case of Minneapolis Police Officer Duy Dinh Ngo, who was wounded by a suspect while on duty and radioed dispatch for assistance. The first officer on the scene jumped out of his vehicle and shot Ngo six times, causing permanent disability.

I could fill the column with examples like this of trained law enforcement officers who have allowed confusion to void training in the excitement of the moment and killed either fellow officers or innocent bystanders.

If law enforcement officers trained not to let the excited confusion of the moment cause them to lose it, do lose it and start firing at fellow officers and innocent bystanders, does anyone really believe teachers and principals won't have an even more difficult time maintaining their cool and picking only appropriate targets?

Read the reports of conditions in the schools where shooting incidents have occurred. There is mass confusion among both staff and students. Teachers and principals have their hands full trying to maintain order and get students to whatever safety they can find.

Can you imagine, if teachers started exchanging gunfire, what conditions would be like in the school? Can you imagine the danger with bullets ricocheting off walls in the halls?

Even in a situation where a teacher remained cool until actually facing an armed intruder, teachers are not trained to kill. A second pausing to consider whether to shoot is all it would take for the teacher to be killed, and few teachers would not take that brief moment to consider before shooting, because they are trained to help and not to harm.

Background checks of gun buyers are touted as a way to reduce firearm violence, but do they really accomplish that much? Because of Congress' limitations on studying firearm violence, we cannot be sure. They may help but they may not do as much as proponents hope they will. The fact is, most firearm violence is performed by people without a criminal record.

Proponents argue that background checks will catch those with mental health issues, but that just demonstrates a lack of understanding of mental health. Mental health issues are in most cases transient episodes that come and go. They occur in virtually everyone's life. Sometimes they are the result of hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, menopause, etc.; sometimes the result of a traumatic event such as a loved one's death, a divorce, loss of a job, etc.; sometimes the result of a life experience such as combat duty, emergency services duty, etc. People may pass a background check today and become mentally ill temporarily tomorrow.

Another factor to consider regarding mental health issues is that people suffering with mental health issues are not generally dangerous to other people. We too often think of people with mental health issues as being sociopaths or psychopaths, but that is very seldom the case.

While there is a dearth of data about the relationship of guns to violence available in the U.S., international studies make it clear that there is a direct relationship between per capita gun ownership in a country and gun violence. Those studies show that the U.S. leads the world in gun ownership and gun violence. The first step we need to take as a nation to determine how to change that is to gather our own data on gun violence.

I am not opposed to improved security at schools, background checks for gun buyers or to gun ownership, but I do recognize that gun violence is a serious problem in our nation and ask our President and Congress to charge relevant federal agencies to gather the data necessary to develop an effective program to address it and to do so post haste.

Larry Dobson

Claremont Service

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