Christine and William Newsom: Stand by our youth to fight the epidemic of gun violence
February 27, 2018
"What splendor! What poverty! What humanity! What inhumanity! What mutual good will! What individual isolation! What loyalty to the ideal! What hypocrisy! What a triumph of conscience! What perversity!"
These were the words written by Polish poet and Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz upon arriving in the U.S. in 1960 and seeing its stark contrasts. Milosz could be speaking today, for we are facing the reality that youth in our country have potential opportunities in life undreamed of by their parents; and yet those same youth (age 15 to 19) are 82 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than youth in other high income democratic countries (Health Affairs, Jan. 2018).
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions responded to the recent high school shooting in Parkland, Florida which killed 17, by stating that there needs to be better enforcement of existing laws, even though no existing laws were apparently broken up to the point that Nikolaz Cruz began gunning down his former classmates and teachers.
Nor did the murderer in the Las Vegas hotel tower have any record of legal transgression, until he unleashed his rage into the innocent crowd.
Something is shifting among these young people who are seeing their futures stolen from them, not only the victims and survivors of the massacre ... but throughout the country.
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President Trump blamed the Florida tragedy on mental illness, even though last year he repealed an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with severe mental disabilities to purchase firearms. One commentator blamed the school shootings on "bad parenting." And one astonishing solution came from the father of a student who had been injured, saying he felt that there was no choice but to require entry into schools to be the same as into airports, or maybe even prisons.
What is happening differently in the other high income democratic nations that do not have our extraordinary rates of teen murder by guns? They have their share of mental illness, although admittedly access to mental health care — indeed all health care — is better in all the other high income democracies. They certainly have their share of bad parenting. They have unguarded schools.
What do they not have?
They do not have a country that is awash in firearms — an estimated 200 to 300 million privately owned firearms in the U.S., although no one knows for certain. They do not have a governing body that is in the pocket of the gun lobby, and gun laws that are written by gun lobbyists. They do not make it easier to buy a military-style assault rifle than get a driver's license. And they do not accept the sacrifice of their precious children in the flower of their youth as the sad but acceptable price one may have to pay for nearly unlimited access to firearms.
Fifty years ago, the late Senator Thomas Dodd said "the time has come that we must adopt stringent gun control legislation comparable to the legislation in force in virtually every civilized country in the world." Tragically, that has not occurred, and as a result since 1968 more U.S. civilians have died of gunshot wounds than all the U.S. soldiers killed in all the wars in which our country has ever been involved (New York Times, Aug. 27, 2015). Nearly three years ago, Politifact also did an investigation of that claim and found it to be substantiated. As of August 27, 2015, a total of 1,396,733 had died in all of our wars to date compared to the 1,516,863 deaths from firearms — including homicides, suicides and accidental.
We are not powerless to stop this epidemic. Something is shifting among these young people who are seeing their futures stolen from them, not only the victims and survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but throughout the country. The courage they are showing in standing up to the gun lobby and lawmakers, and their boldness in confronting the gun issue, are truly inspiring. If you feel you are finally ready to act, and show our children we can stand by them in this fight, there are many things you can do:
1. Contact Senators Feinstein, Harris and Rep. LaMalfa, and tell them you expect them to work urgently toward definitive gun control regulation comparable to those in place in every other high income democratic country in the world, and if they don't, you will work against their next re-election
2. Join the Brady Campaign, Americans Against Gun Violence or another group working towards reasonable gun legislation, which includes background checks to all gun sales, a ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines, and extreme risk laws (ERPOs) to remove guns from dangerously unstable individuals. Combined, these measures will drastically reduce the toll of gun violence in this nation.
3. Speak up — it's time to come out and tell people how you feel about the epidemic of gun violence. Let us support the youth who are mobilizing to end it.
Christine Newsom, M.D. and William Newsom, Jr., M.D. live in Nevada City.