Fabia’s ePortfoio

 

 Guns in the United States of America: A Public Health Issue

Fabia J Hinds-Bertrand

 NUR 4110, 8541

Prof. McGirr

May 13, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gun violence in the United States of America (USA/US/America) needs to be officially declared a public safety issue by people at a level of authority. The conversation for fewer guns on the streets of American cities should involve all the stakeholders. The surviving victims and the families speaking on behalf of the fallen victims should certainly be part of the gun debate. Opponents of gun regulation, some politicians, supporters of the gun industry, television and radio pundits, have criticized victims and family members for being involved in the ongoing gun debate.

The American public cannot afford to have the usual money infused loud voices drown out those that are affected most by gun violence. Since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Martin Luther King in 1968, the patriotic established echelons in congress and the senate has indicated that they will do little or nothing by way of legislation to curb the high number of gun deaths. According to the national vital statistics reports from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and as noted by Komaroff (2013), firearms killed 32,163 American men, women and children in 2011; to gauge the importance of this topic, consider the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan killed 6,648 service men and women over a period of ten years (Jean-Louis, Linch, Fetterhoff, & Hadar, 2013).

Whether it is in the streets, in homes, at work, in a movie theater or at school, in 2013 it can be reported that injuries and death from firearms have directly or indirectly affected many American families. There are families who never considered that gun violence would be their reality and be part of their existence. These families continue to grieve for children, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. Assault rifle, high capacity magazine clips, bushmaster, Sandy Hook, Newtown, Connecticut and comprehensive background checks are some of the current words and phrases being used by these families that will remain in the public lexicon until another tragic event mesmerize the nation.

Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, 435 deaths by firearms in Chicago (Geier, 2012), not even the shooting of a US congresswoman was sufficiently shocking to start a solemn discussion about gun regulation. It took the deaths of many five and six year olds to ignite a fiery debate. While the opposing and supporting arguments for gun control are put forward, treatment for victims and families should be readily available. The physical visible wounds are the first to be cured; the invisible wounds are not quick to heal which can result in psychological damage. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one condition that can cause psychological difficulties if left untreated. As defined by the Mayo Clinic (2013), PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. It is still viewed by many as something that happens to soldiers who have experienced combat. Sadly, the residual effect of gun violence and sometimes-additional gun violence is a struggle that victims, their families and the community deals with on a daily basis.

There are many challenges and barriers that prevent a civil debate and substantial legislation on gun regulation. Specifically, sentiments and values like money and individual rights; in addition, lifestyle, education, socioeconomic status and locality further divide the opponents and supporters of gun control legislation. The special interest groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have the money power and affluence to lobby, persuade and change the public sentiment for or against gun regulation. More often than not the group that pay out the most money gain the upper hand and sway the argument in their favor, no matter how irrational the arguments and the end results are laws that benefit the few.

One talking point that is often repeated is the notion of criminals not adhering to background checks and it will inconvenience law abiding gun buyers and sellers. So, if criminals are not going to obey the laws, we should not pass any; this reasoning is not logical. The primary reason given with the aim of persuaded the undecided is the US constitution, specifically the second amendment. As both sides dispute each other’s agenda, the viewpoint from the non-regulatory side translates this way: if an individual right to bear arms is hindered, America will no longer be America. They are of the opinion that their freedom and way of life is under attacked so they are exploiting the second amendment to gain the advantage. The second amendment in its entirety states that a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed (Archives, 2013).  It was upheld in the landmark 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. However, the opinion of the United States Supreme Court stated that right to bear arms was not unlimited (Blocher, 2013). The individuals who are against any type of gun laws are interpreting the second amendment according to their values and it will be a difficult challenge to move them from this position.

Education and socioeconomic status are also major contributors to the non-implementation of gun laws. Many will recall in 2008 during the Obama campaign for president, he was accused of patronizing the gun owners who live in rural America when he said people who have been beaten down so long and feel betrayed by government; so its not surprising that they get bitter and they cling to guns, or religion or antipathy towards people who aren’t like them (NRA, 2008). These remarks were not received well by some members of the public, specifically in rural areas; as noted by Blocher (2013), rural areas are centers of both gun ownership and strong opposition to gun regulations. It was not shocking that the comments were taken out of context polarizing political opinion, which resulted in negative press for then candidate Obama. In regards to rural versus urban gun owners, Blocher (2013) proposed that new gun legislation should be applied to locality.  Since the debate has become contentious and stalled, Blocher (2013) explained that firearm localism would help us move forward from this current mire position.

President Obama has used his executive power to help move the gun control agenda forward. One of twenty-three executive orders signed in January 2013 was for research; executive action number 15 directs the attorney general to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun-safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies (Newsmax, 2013).  Published research on gun violence in America suggests that it will be difficult to pass gun laws even in the wake of Sandy Hook. Schered (2013) asked the question, would a new campaign for gun laws quell the mass shootings that are routine in America? It does not appear as if anything substantial will be accomplished in the near future; lawmakers are still apprehensive about passing gun laws. As Schered (2013) noted, democrats from rural districts remain wary of gun restriction and republicans are not likely to pass a bill written by the Obama White House.

Supporters of gun control want the federal government to regulate firearms because, as Congressional Digest (2013) stated, federal law serves as the minimum standard in the United States. According to Congressional Digest (2013) federal regulations of firearms include the National Firearms Act (NFA), the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) and Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Act). The purpose of the NFA was to make it difficult to obtain machine guns and short-barreled long guns. The GCA restricts domestic commerce on small arms and ammunition, it requires all firearm dealers to be federally licensed and prevents interstate mail order sale of all firearms. The Brady Act was an amendment to the GCA requiring background checks for firearms transfers between federal firearms licenses and non-licensed persons.

Background checks remain the most proposal of gun reform. Johnson (2013) reasoned that background checks are effective and politically achievable; she emphasized that it is far easier lift to improve the background check system than to revive a defective, widely reviled and weak assault weapons ban. Everyone does not share these sentiments; Sullum (2013) proclaimed that universal background checks are unlikely to stop mass shootings and enforcing them would expose millions of peaceful people to the threat of gun confiscation and criminal prosecution. A law abiding peaceful individual attempts to purchase a gun and a background check is carried out successfully allowing the person to buy the gun; the question must be asked, how does gun confiscation and criminal prosecution come into play? A less contentious proposal is strengthening the laws to prevent unlawful gun carrying. On this front the evidence is quite solid. Cook (2013) signaled that policing focused on guns could be effective in reducing gun violence on the street.

Local policing plays a major role in preventing and responding to gun violence yet they have not taken a major lead in the current gun crime debate. Possibly this is due to severe budget cuts and strict spending measures of the federal government and states; enforcing law and order has become difficult because financial and personnel resources are limited. In order to carry out efficient and cost effective policing, evidence based policing is the way to proceed according to former senior law enforcement officer Bueerman and criminologist Sherman. They are convince that evidence based policing would succeed if implemented. Similar to the implementation and evaluation actions of the nursing process that seek good patient outcome, Bueerman (2012) stressed the importance of evaluating ongoing police operations because it link research based strategies to improved public safety outcomes. Bueerman (2012) explained that policing practices are implemented based on organizational culture and political and community expectations. While it is the responsibility of police departments to use the evidence based tools available, the research community it is obligated to present the research. In order to direct policing towards evidenced based methods, the results should be comprehensive and sometimes research findings are not readable; Bueerman (2013) suggest that each research summary could outline the issue studied, the method used in the study, the findings and their application to policing and crime control.

Evidence based policing is not a new occurrence; early in this century, Berkley Police Chief partnered with his local university and generate this idea (Sherman, 1998). Even so, it is rarely used because there are no governmental criterions to set guidelines. Sherman (1998) specified that these guidelines could focus in-house evaluations of what works best across agencies, units, victims and officers. Surprisingly, evaluations of ongoing police operations are not conducted therefore feedback, from in-house, the community and other agencies, is not executed. Sherman (1998) called this break down in the system, a crucial missing link. Indeed, Boba (2010) added that police departments are evolving and devolving which makes reflection and evaluation of previous work, not impossible but difficult and often not even considered. To change the current method of policing, research has to be applied consistently to practice and someone is needed to apply and reinforce the guidelines of evidence based policing. Sherman (1998) referred to this individual as an evidence cop. The evidence cop will usually develop an individual relationship with the researcher. Unfortunately, as Boba (2010) pointed out, when the individuals leave the partnership disappears and the challenge is developing an intimate relationship between the university and the police department. A relationship based on trust and intimacy must develop between the organizations to ensure continuity of the partnership.

Besides police departments and the research community, other stakeholders in the gun debate are gun manufacturers, gun associations, gun dealers, gun owners, lawmakers and the voting public. They all have a direct interest in what type of gun laws are passed. Some are extremely active in the current discussion, while others passively participate. The unreactive participants are wary that nothing of substance will be accomplished because they are familiar with the parties involved and they are skeptical that the previous agenda has not changed. The bounded rationality of policy making also prevent initial involvement in the debate. As defined by business dictionary (2013) decision makers have to rely on partial information regarding possible alternatives and their consequences, and a inadequate amount of this information is evaluated and process because of the limited capacity of the human mind; time is also limited therefore satisficing choices will be made in complex situations.

Gun regulation is one of the more complex public health issues confronting the public. Gun manufacturers do not allow their names to become trapped in the gun conversation. They have media and political savvy representatives who secure their anonymity. Unlike the tobacco companies who suffered harsh publicity when they were subpoena to testify before congress, gun manufacturers have escaped the unswerving daily negative press. They are reaping the benefits of their good fortune. As of 2011, 49 percent of Americans said that protecting gun ownership rights was important and 26 percent favor a handgun ban (Roberts, 2012). The 5,400 gun manufacturers in the US (Roberts, 2012) will remain behind the scene as long as they are receiving cover from other stakeholders, specifically gun associations.

 

The NRA, with an estimated 3.1 million members (Kessler, 2013) is the largest of the gun association groups. Instead of the gun manufacturers testifying before congress, it was the NRA that made a declaration under oath in January 2013. According to the NRA (2013), they are a major political force and America’s foremost defender of second amendment rights. Still, many Americans believe that the NRA main purpose is to lobby for the gun manufacturers under the guise of second amendment rhetoric. The NRA was once in favor of reasonable gun laws; as noted by Politifact (2013), in 1999 the NRA president Wayne LaPierre, testified before congress stating, “we think it is reasonable to provide mandatory instant criminal background checks for every sale at every gun show”. The NRA has changed its position on background checks because, according to board member Sandy Froman, the system doesn’t work (Politifact, 2013).

Gun dealers and gun owners are two of the major participants involved in background checks. Roberts (2012) reported that 39 percent of gun applicants were denied by states because of a felony conviction or indictment. This statistic gives credibility to the worth of background checks; yet 40 percent of the guns sold through unlicensed and private sellers (Roberts, 2012) are not obliged to perform background checks. A change in the law will transpire only when the voting public rejects lawmakers who are not working on their behalf but are only concern with their political career.

Since national and local politicians are needed to make policy, it is beneficial to those advocating for change that the politician has a moral interest in their cause. As stated by Mason, Leavitt and Chafee (2002), policies reflect the values and beliefs of the leaders of society and/or organizations who make the policies. Therefore, the policies that are recommended here are a result of my guiding principles. Others have mentioned these three policy recommendations. The first is background checks for everyone who wants to purchase a firearm. The system is already in place; the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tracks the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) that was established for Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) under the Brady Act; the dealer can contact the NICS by phone or other electronic means and the information is available immediately (FBI, 2013). The second is legal actions against, the so-called straw buyer, the person who can pass a background check and then buys a firearm for someone who has a criminal record or is deem mentally incompetent and the last recommendation is providing better service to the mental health community in the form of financial resources and qualify personnel.

Supporters of gun regulation have lost some momentum since congress failed to pass comprehensive background checks even so, there are still opportunities to pass meaningful laws and fund programs that would prohibit unlawful gun ownership. Regrettably, Americans will continue to be causalities of gun violence as long as the stakeholders are unwilling to compromise. Continuation of comprehensive and applicable research is needed in order to find the middle ground and increase the practice of evidence based policing. Any gun laws will affect the stakeholders, specifically the masses, the voting public, the most. Therefore, they should pay closer attention to the current and future debates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

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