Viewpoint: Treat gun violence as the public health crisis it is

Viewpoint: Treat gun violence as the public health crisis it is
Karen Rubin, Columnist


June 7 is Gun Violence Awareness Day – absurd on its face that we aren’t made aware enough by daily headlines more tragic and outrageous than the day before. Perhaps it means to be sensitive on that day instead of numb to the evidence of pervasive, ubiquitous gun violence that is uniquely American.

It comes just after Memorial Day when we honor and mourn the 1.3 million who died in America’s wars – for the freedoms we enjoy today, we like to say. Paramount among them for a minority of Americans is the right to have a gun. But over 660,000 have died (more than in America’s deadliest war, the Civil War) just since Republicans let the Assault Weapons Ban lapse in 2004. In that time, the number of weapons of war increased exponentially to 24.6 million (one in 20) in the civilian population.

The ChristoFascist majority Supreme Court has decided guns have more rights than children to live (guns the No. 1 killer), more rights than women have over their body, more rights than Blacks have to vote, overturning centuries of precedent and law to declare an individual’s virtually unregulated “right” to carry a gun (Second Amendment says “well-regulated militia” and “arms” not “firearms” or “guns”).

The rate of gun violence has exploded, increasing the number of gun deaths a year from an unimaginable 33,000 to the mind-blowing 48,830 in 2021 with 116 killed each day. t

Even more horrifying is the number of mass shootings, directly correlated to the number of assault weapons: 273 in 2014, increasing to 690 in 2021.

While we tend to focus only on the dead, millions of Americans live with physical, mental and emotional injuries after surviving a gun assault, costing the nation $557 billion a year in medical care not to mention lost productivity. And what about the orphans and widowed?

What should outrage every American is that the assault weapons exponentially murder random innocents – not like those pesky handguns that are used in gang violence and intentional killings. Schoolchildren in Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Uvalde are now forced to “learn” in prison-like “secure” settings. People watching a July 4th parade, attending a concert, shopping at the mall, going to a movie or nightclub, church or synagogue are potential targets.

On the other hand, the Brady Campaign estimates that during the 10 years the ban was in effect, mass shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur, but after the ban expired, mass shootings in which six or more people were killed increased by 347%.

The ubiquity of guns also factors into the 1,000 killed by police each year (13% higher rate in states with permitless concealed carry laws, with unarmed Black people three times more likely to be killed by police) because they can claim they feared for their life.

And Stand Your Ground Laws in so many of the states with the most permissive gun laws (permitless and open carry) are having tragic consequences, where the perpetrator knows to shoot first and kill in order to claim self-defense. Indeed, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott just pardoned a man who murdered a Black Lives Matter protester who was said to be carrying an AK-47 style gun (and pushing his fiancee’s wheelchair), because “Stand Your Ground” law “cannot be nullified by a jury or a progressive district attorney.”

Tell me how we as a society stand for this? How we allow our “culture” to be defined by guns? How is that acceptable?

The Biden administration has been successful in passing some of the most significant gun violence prevention regulations in 30 years. And last fall, the ATF issued a long overdue rule expanding background checks to more gun sales, which Republican gun extremists in Congress want to overturn. Now the Supreme Court majority may well rule in Rahimi that Red Flag laws are unconstitutional.

If we are to end the scourge of gun violence, guns should be regulated at least as much as women’s reproductive rights and voting. Here’s what needs to be done:


Ban assault weapons, high-capacity ammo, bump stocks for civilian use, mechanisms that turn guns into machine guns, and ghost guns. Give a deadline and institute a buy-back program.

End the unprecedented exemption for product liability.

Require the $28 billion guns and ammo industry to pay into a Victims Compensation Fund to defray the $597 billion/year that gun violence costs society.

Require gun manufacturers to build in Smart ID so that a gun stolen from a house, car, soldier or police officer cannot be used by a criminal. (FBI crime data indicates one gun is stolen from a car every nine minutes.)

Institute advertising/marketing controls just as the government did for Big Tobacco.


Require all guns to be sold by a licensed retailer who is required to do background check and register ownership of that gun, including guns that otherwise would be traded, sold or gifted among family or friends. Retailers would have to pay fines or if multiple incidents, lose license.

Regulate WHERE, HOW and WHO can sell guns.

Harden penalties for retailers who do not do proper background checks or allow straw purchases (criminal penalty if gun improperly sold used in a crime; loss of retail license, fines.)

Put a hefty tax on purchase of guns, ammo and gun paraphernalia, which helps recompense law enforcement.

No online purchases of guns or ammo.

Gun Owners:

Gun owners must be certified as having gone through training and knowing laws regarding safe storage, licensed to carry and registered as the owner of that specific gun (just as for a car), renewed every five years, and insured.

Universal background check, national registry.

Red Flag laws to prevent anyone who is adjudicated a threat to self or others from possessing a gun.

Tax license, registration, guns and ammunition and supplies – money goes to Victims Fund;

Civil and criminal penalties for failing to safely store weapons, ammunition; severity increases if gun used in violent crime. If guns are going to be everywhere, there has to be accountability: Negligent homicide for anyone whose gun is used in murder, felony prosecution for anyone whose gun is used in crime, including parents, guardians of minor who uses gun.

Stand Your Ground defense? Prove actual mortal threat and no way to mitigate.

We may think because we live in New York State which, in spite of the Supreme Court, still has some sensible gun control (and safest big cities in the country), but that really depends on who is governor and in the Legislature’s majority.

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