Gun Violence Must Stop. Here’s What We Can Do to Prevent More Deaths
We are all struggling to make sense of an unspeakable tragedy and to find our own way to comfort the families and community that were shattered by this incomprehensible violence. As Newtown comes together to heal, so must the nation. Part of our healing must be the conviction that we will do everything in our power to keep tragedies like this from happening again. We must also remember that it’s not just the high-profile massacres like the ones at Shady Hook Elementary or the Aurora movie theater that we must strive to prevent, but the daily drumbeat of death-by-gun that claims 30,000 lives every year.
We stand with the President in his assertion that we we’ve failed our children and must do better. We stand with others around the country who have said: “Enough.” Together we must demand safety—for our children, for our communities, for our nation. As the President said, "We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
President Obama vowed to use the power of his office for positive change. Please let him know you stand behind his resolve and tell him and your Representatives in the House and Senate to take action along these lines:
1) Gun safety: Establish a culture of gun safety. As the nation on earth with the most guns, we must make sure people are protected. As a starting point, let’s insist on mandatory training and licensing along with safe—and secure—gun storage. This training should not be a one-time affair. Gun owners should be required to regularly refresh their training and renew their permits, with requirements at least as stringent as those governing renewal of your driver’s license.
2) Mental health treatment: Ensure accessible, high quality, culturally competent and widely accessed mental health treatment in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. While gun ownership has been rising, mental health services across the country have been slashed. We must face this challenge head on, reduce the stigma associated with mental health needs, and support our children, friends, family members and neighbors in seeking—and obtaining—high-quality treatment.
3) Trauma reduction: Reduce children’s exposure to violence and address the impact of trauma by implementing recommendations from the Attorney General's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. From the report: "Our children are experiencing and witnessing violence on an alarming scale…The good news is that we know what works to address children’s exposure to violence."
4) Sensible gun laws: Ban high capacity magazines, expand the 24 hour gun background check to make it universal, and reinstitute the assault weapons ban immediately. We must insist that assault weapons have no place beyond the battlefield—not in our schools, not in our movie theaters, not in our places of worship, not in our streets and communities.
5) Comprehensive solutions: Charge the Department of Justice; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration; and the Department of Education to identify solutions in 90 days. With input from young people, community members, the faith community and others, these agencies should jointly identify the root causes of this country’s more than 16,000 homicides a year and develop a set of recommendations to address them. They must then be tasked to implement them with policies, legislation and actions.
6) Safe communities: Support citywide planning and implementation of comprehensive violence prevention plans that include prevention, intervention, enforcement, rehabilitation and reentry. A growing research base demonstrates that it is possible to prevent shootings, killings and violence in the long term. Yet our communities lack the resources to do what is needed. Passage of the Youth Promise Act would help make our communities safer. We must commit to helping communities identify and implement solutions.
7) Public health solutions: Recognize gun violence as a critical and preventable public health problem. Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the country. Yet, unlike other preventable causes of death, we haven’t mustered the political will to address it. We should establish a National Institute of Violence Prevention at NIH to research root causes and community solutions. We should fund the CDC to develop its infrastructure so it can track, assess and develop strategies to prevent gun violence, just as we do with tainted spinach and influenza.
8) Unshackle the CDC: Restore the CDC’s freedom to study this issue and provide science-based guidance. The CDC, the nation’s public health agency, is now restricted from making recommendations on sensible ways to reduce gun violence. This must change.
As our country reels from this terrible tragedy, we must vow to change our culture and our policies and to stop this cycle of violence. We should be able to send our children to first grade, pray in our houses of worship, shop in our local malls and walk through our streets and neighborhoods without being shot. Together we can take action in the memory of those who died and insist that this never happen again.
Stephen Barton, a 22-year-old, survived the Aurora movie theater shooting last summer and decided to devote himself to fighting gun violence. He also grew just a few miles from Shady Hook Elementary School. As he said on CNN this weekend: “The moment is now…These children should not have died in vain.”