With NRA, Gun As First Rather Than Last Resort

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[Truth To Power]

As the national debate on gun violence continues and Americans search for answers to curb the current onslaught some people claim the mental health situation is the key issue to address--not new gun legislation.

But does this sentiment stand up to closer scrutiny, or, is it just a convenient excuse being used by the NRA and others to kill legislation designed to restrict assault weapons?

Since the murders of 27 people—including 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, and the gunman's own mother at home, in Newtown, Connecticut, politicians on Capitol Hill have been forced to address the issue of the easy availability of assault weapons.

Last week, people on several sides of the gun debate appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss gun violence and the proposed legislation being pushed by Democrats that would ban military-style weapons, multi-bullet clips and institute a universal background check system. Among them was embattled NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre who continued to deny tighter gun controls would minimize violent gun deaths.

“As I said earlier, we need to be honest about what works and what does not work,” Mr. LaPierre said. “Proposals that would only serve to burden the law-abiding have failed in the past and will fail in the future.”

Mr. LaPierre also stated “Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals. Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families.” The NRA leader said background checks were not the answer because “let's be honest background checks will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them.”

Mr. LaPierre, prompted by a question from Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, seemed to agree with the school of thought suggesting individual Americans need to be armed to fight against a future tyrannical government saying many feared a time when they’d be “abandoned by their government.” Baltimore Police Chief Jim Johnson, present at the hearings, described that notion as “scary, creepy and not based on logic.”

The hearing also recorded the testimony of one victim of violence who worked on Capitol Hill: former Arizona Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords, who was shot, in January 2011, by gunman Jared Loughner. “Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important,” Giffords told the committee chaired by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy. “Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you.”

Indeed, it’s time for the issue of gun violence to be seriously addressed. Some say gun violence in America will not be stopped by banning assault weapons alone. That’s true. Other things like the veneration of violence within the national psyche—which describes the gore of war in glorified terms—must be addressed. Mr. LaPierre would have us believe the killing machines his friends mass produce aren’t part of the problem. He clearly doesn’t give a damn about anything besides the bottom line of gun-manufacturing merchants of death. Yet, it’s true that American society’s indoctrinated conditioning to accept and glorify violence is the larger problem.

Mr. LaPierre and others have articulated the idea that the mental health aspect of this issue is of primary consideration. This view is overblown—at least in the way LaPierre and his friends mean it.

"Gun violence is a mental health issue only to a very small extent and to a much smaller extent than most people assume," says psychiatrist Paul Applebaum, the director of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons’ Division of Law, Ethics and Psychiatry. "Most gun violence is just not committed by people with mental illness," he said. “Were we somehow to stop violence by anyone with a mental illness -- as unlikely as that outcome might be -- we would be safer, but only a teeny bit safer. As much as these incidents attract everybody's attention and concern, they are a tiny fraction of the people who get killed in this country every year." In fact, according to a 2005 published report by the Institute of Medicine mental illness was only responsible for 5 percent of all the nation’s violent acts.

This reality undercuts the simplistic arguments folks like Mr. LaPierre use to explain the mass killings plaguing the country. However, we must admit we’ve a problem with respect to this nation’s troubled attitude towards violence. During last week’s hearing members of the Senate, like Senator Durbin, criticized Mr. LaPierre for his incoherent, inconsistent ramblings—as they should. Yet, many of these Capitol Hill politicians need to look at themselves in the mirror for the mixed messages they send.

American politicians often tell young people to seek peaceful solutions to solve problems. Unfortunately, these politicians hardly practice what they preach. How do they expect to have any moral high ground on this issue when they’re often busy bullying other nations into submission with military violence, or, threats of violence?

Worst of all, Washington whenever it suits them unleashes state-sponsored violence on some of their own citizens—like the unwarranted attacks against peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters—especially, when those citizens have been branded “fringe elements.”

African-Americans, perpetually targets for violent harassment by law enforcement, know this feeling all too well. Ironically, this advances the arguments of those who think they’ll someday need arms to fight the government.

Recently, we paid homage to arguably the most peaceful—and patriotic—citizen America ever produced: Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King once called America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

Four decades later, has America changed enough? For his efforts, fighting for justice and promoting peace, Dr. King was assassinated in political intrigue—exactly one year after his infamous “Beyond Vietnam” speech—similar to the manner in which President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy were killed. These men were cut down while they were in the process of trying to transform America’s political system into a peaceful one—but peace is antithetical to the big business of war.

In his farewell speech, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about the rise of the military industrial complex. Since his words went unheeded those forces have consolidated their power over our political system. Because of this, Washington gives great lip-service to the concept of peace while the politicians pass saber-rattling legislation that creates more conflict worldwide.

What does this have to do with domestic gun violence?

When citizens see our government’s penchant for handling disputes abroad with violence, what do we expect many to do when they're faced with problematic challenges at home? Isn’t the levels of violence afflicting American streets an outgrowth of Washington’s violent disposition?

In the long run, Americans must change their national mindset towards accepting the unnecessary use of violence on the international—and domestic—stage. This will take time but it will, eventually, help to teach a new breed of Americans that violence should only be used as a protective last resort.

In the meanwhile, the sensible thing for this Congress to do is restrict the use of these devices of mass death.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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