The Heart, Mind and Face of the Matter: Reducing Gun Violence

J.Lyn

Eng 102:  Essay 2 – Exploratory

Published Date:  October 9, 2012

The Heart, Mind and Face of the Matter: Reducing Gun Violence

The morning of Saturday, July 21st, 2012 where were you?  What were you doing? I remember exactly.  I woke early, as is typical. I peeked in at my children to see that they were each still sleeping soundly. I poured myself a steaming cup of coffee and grabbed my ipad then logged into Facebook.  My awakening included tears streaming down my face due to the twelve lives lost and the fifty-eight lives damaged in the Aurora Cinema Shooting and the senselessness of it.  Mass killings invoke fear into a Nation of people; it isn’t just parents worried about sending their child to school or teenagers fearing going to school (Columbine), God-fearing Church-goers(Fort Worth), it’s about adults heading to work or anyone hoping to have two hours of continuous recreation.  It gives all of us reason to pause in whatever public arena we are about to enter and question if we will be safe.

This speaks towards why Edward Wasserman’s article, “Killing as a Troubling Cinematic Art Form” immediately captured my attention.  It was very clear that the article’s focus was on one of American’s longest standing debates: the cause of gun violence.  Wasserman attempts to provide evidence that the media/movie industry is at fault for gun violence and although the article didn’t convince me, it does call into light the two questions that have been lingering in my mind for three months: Why is this happening?  What can we do as a society to prevent it from happening again?

To address the first question, I began my quest at Ebscohost searching “cause of gun violence” and came across an article by Ron Fournier of the Associated Press titled, “Bush Condemns ‘Evil’, Not Gun Laws.”  The article cites President Bush’s words and actions in the aftermath of the Fort Worth, Texas Church tragedy.  Fournier states “Like most Republicans generally in line with the National Rifle Association, Bush said current laws need to be enforced.  Punish people who illegally sell guns or who commit crimes with a gun; keep weapons out of the hands of felons and mentally ill people; ban certain assault weapons and require background checks at gun shows, he said.”  Bush’s reaction was spot on.  Knowing that news stories can be presented in a bias fashion and this article hinted towards derision for Bush, I decided to research the author and found allegations of bias news reporting.  I didn’t want my topic straying into a mass political debate so I’ve decided to set aside this article, but I have noted Bush’s reference to evil under cause.

I moved on to ProQuest searching the same topic and discovered an article by Dottie Lamm, “Gun Control; Walk the walk – With Petitions.”  This did border on some political viewpoints, but I found some of the information directly addressed the cause.  She very aptly states, “I understand that violence is not ‘caused’ by guns any more than it is by any other weapons. The causes of violence are complex. And it is urgent that we deal responsibly with the root of violence as well as its result.”  Lamm goes on to say, “In the meantime, however, we can render violence much less lethal simply by keeping guns out of the hands of people who should not have them – namely criminals and kids.  As Denver Mayor Wellington Webb once said: ‘I’ve never seen a drive-by knifing.’” Reading this and staring at the notation of ‘evil’ under causes, leads me to the conclusion that while we need research into what causes a person to behave with such violence, this is not the area that we can demand a specific and immediate answer from.  The field of Psychology has grown and Criminology studies take into consideration profiling and threat assessments.  I believe we are doing what we can to move toward an answer to this question.  The critical area we can address is how we can prevent or at least reduce the chances of a mass killing spree.

So I reverted back to Ebscohost and found an article by Craig Whitney, “A Way Out of the Gun Stalemate.”  This was the eye-opening article I was hoping to find.  He begins by calling everyone out into the open, “stop screaming at each other and look for common ground on how to deal with gun violence, the next massacre is only a matter of time.” Whitney does a thorough job detailing the differing viewpoints of Liberals and their counterparts: Gun Advocates, then strikes mid ground as he pitches in some ideas that would have prevented the Aurora Massacre.  He specifies that a “mental health outreach and screening” may have assisted in the Background Check process so the mass amount of guns would never have been purchased.  He makes the case for limiting mass volumes of ammunition with the exceptions being soldiers, police and those who have membership at a shooting range/gun club.  Whitney then reinforces Bush’s viewpoint by saying “Vigorous enforcement of existing federal laws that criminalize buying guns, under a false pretext, for somebody else who can’t pass the federal background check—a favorite ruse of criminals—would be a good next step.”  He concludes his range of possible options and his article with, “Maybe someday we could even require people who buy guns from private owners, online or at gun shows to pass that same federal background check. But we’ll never know until we begin seriously talking to each other about our gun violence problem.”

Now these are thoughts I can get behind.  Fort Worth, Texas and Aurora, Colorado would be business as usual if there had been a psychological background check to prevent the attackers from purchasing the guns. Is mental illness a recurring issue in these cases?  All data indicates yes. An article found using CQ Researcher titled, “Gun Violence: Are Stronger Measures Needed to Protect Society?” by Kenneth Jost,  details that in the case of the Virginia Tech shooting, those closest to him were very aware of his disturbed behavior and a judge in a previous issue with the shooter found him to “be an imminent danger to himself”.  Now we can add Virginia Tech to the list of shootings that might have been prevented or deterred if a Psych Background Check was required prior to purchasing a gun.

I turned my attention and research towards Gun Control Background Checks—if it was this simple—wouldn’t it be in place already?  I referenced the FBI’s website and discovered a brochure that elaborated the signing into law of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (Brady Act).  The Attorney General had to establish the National Instant Criminal Background (NICB) to adhere to the perimeters of the provisions of the Brady Act.  Along with those convicted of a crime with a punishment of 1 year more, those convicted of domestic abuse and drug users or addicts, I found the following statute regarding those unable to purchase a gun, “18, U.S.C. §922 (g) (4) Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution.”  This was implemented by 1998.   It did not help in the 1999 case of Fort Worth, Virginia Tech or the Aurora case as none of the perpetrators were “adjudicated”, although close family, friends and neighbors all indicated questionable views on mental stability.  It seems this provision isn’t complete or clear.  The provision initially provides a level of comfort to those reading it, however it begs the question be asked, who is responsible for quantifying this decision?  This is obviously not clear enough if such drastic cases of mental instability slipped through.

Was I too hasty in dismissing the advantages of further research in psychology and investing in this research as a mean to an end?  I moved my search from gun control to “mental instability and mass killings” and found an article in Time Magazine Online, “After Aurora, Question About Mass Murder and Mental Illness” which asks, “How can we understand who is at risk for becoming violent without increasing the stigma associated with mental illness, especially when that stigma may account for a large part of the association between the two?”  and provides a case study depicting this exact statement where the patient tells of an understanding she had in regards to Holmes’ case due to her own shunning from collegiate professors and classmates after her diagnosis(Szalavitz).   Perhaps the most profound statement by Szalavitz is “the connections we have to one another—our social capital, our ability to seek and receive support from others—is the most important weapon we have against violence.”  If our relationships are truly the critical key to disbanding violent actions, how can we tap into these few that could result in tragic endings if those who are most at risk suffer from preliminary symptoms that cause them to cut off the very relationships that could expose them?   What if we were to create and run a preliminary mental stability social risk assessment on social media sites that are public, like Facebook?  Sigh.  Yes – I hear the Right’s Advocates drawing in a large breath, gearing up for war, but if it could not only prevent a percentage of mass killings, but provide confidential help to those most in need, wouldn’t the disadvantages outweigh the advantages for us all?

I propose two immediate actions.  Our first priority needs to be stricter enforcement of the laws in place.  If we cannot ensure the laws we have created are being enforced, the questions bares to be asked, why add more laws?  Although many Americans will worry about right infringement, the second thing is we need to work towards implementing a mental stability test requirement for anyone wanting to purchase a gun.  I say to those many Americans, that this does not take away the right to own a gun; it just ensures the individual is fit for such a great responsibility in much the same way you must pass a vision test to drive.  There are still questions to be answered: How do we follow up to ensure that individual stays in good mental health and who pays for this testing? Or annual testing if it comes to it?  Plus, what can be done with those who do not pass the proposed mental stability tests?  How can we help them? These will have to be debated in a much larger forum than my living room.

The bottom line is this: The Second Amendment does guarantee the right to bear arms.  Many argue that putting restrictions on the right is unconstitutional, though that same group of people would say it is common sense to not allow that right to criminals.  I say do not add more laws just tighten up the laws already in place.  I also say it is just common sense to ensure that those who purchase a weapon of that caliber should have no hesitation in volunteering for a mental stability test.  The mental stability test, added to the current mental stability provision, would clarify and patch the provision to reduce gun violence in this Country.

Bibliography

Fournier, Ron. “Bush Condemns ‘Evil’, Not Gun Laws.” AP Online, 16 Sept 1999. Ebscohost.

Web. 8 Oct 2012.

Jost, Kenneth.  “Gun Violence: Are Stronger Measures Needed to Protect Society?”

CQ Researcher, 17, 457-480.

Lamm, Dottie.  “Commentary: Gun Control; Walk the Walk – With Petitions.”  Colorado

Women 12.12 (2000). ProQuest. Web. 5 Oct 2012.

“National Instant Criminal Background Check System.”  Federal Bureau of Investigation.

U.S Government, US Dept of Justice, 2012. Web. 13 Oct 2012.

Szalavitz, Maia. “After Aurora, Questions About Mass Murder and Mental Illness.” Time.com.

Time Healthland, 31 Jul 2012. Web. 18 Oct 2012.

Wasserman, Edward.  “Killing as a Troubling Cinematic Art Form.” Guelph Mercury(ON) n.d.:

Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 15 Sept 2012.

Whitney, Craig. “A Way Out of the Gun Stalemate.”  New York Times. 25 Jul 2012.  25.

Ebscohost. Web. 9 Oct 2012.

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