One by One, Put Down Our Guns

Charley Thompson, left, and his wife Rachel Thompson embrace as they place flowers at a makeshift memorial near the road lead
Charley Thompson, left, and his wife Rachel Thompson embrace as they place flowers at a makeshift memorial near the road leading to Umpqua Community College, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Roseburg, Ore. Armed with multiple guns, Chris Harper Mercer walked in a classroom at the community college, Thursday, and opened fire, killing several and wounding several others. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The most recent mass shooting at Umpqha Community College has catalyzed public debate about restrictions on the ownership and carrying of firearms on campuses.

If anything good can come out of the repetitive tragedies of school shootings, perhaps it is the fact that we cannot speak about campus violence without speaking of violence in society as a whole.

The truth is that students remain safer on campuses than non-students (most of us) in general society. We just find it harder to talk about the larger context of our rights vs. public health and safety.

It is so strange to me that some of us were once so scared of AIDS that we were willing to vilify our neighbors and children like Ryan White, yet some of us aren't scared of students having the right to conceal a gun in their backpack at school.

At the risk of over-simplifying the discussion on carry or not to carry, there are two major perspectives:

Those who lean into the constitutional rights argument believe we should allow gun possession on campus by faculty, students and staff so they can defend themselves. These individuals feel the same about the right to carry in society as a whole.

The opposite view is that more guns on campus will increase the risk of violence. These individuals feel the same about the risks in larger society.

I would like to suggest that the staggering toll of gun violence in America is a critical public health and safety issue, not a constitutional rights concern. We will not take effective action until we choose to depoliticize this issue and take charge of our own health and safety.

I remember a time when we didn't wear seat belts, when people smoked cigarettes everywhere including planes. The politicians and the media rallied people to defend the rights of citizens on these issues as well. A lot of time passed and a lot of people died while we came to our senses. We managed to move to a better place by focusing on public health and safety, not our right to kill ourselves and others

I have the right to drink, and I don't have the right to drink and drive. I have the right to carry a gun, and I don't have the right to shoot someone whom I feel offends me. The person who chooses to massacre students in a classroom, in a movie theatre or in a mall is not operating from a rational perspective of rights, rather an irrational position of righteous indignation, hurt, blame and anger.

The Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health has convened experts on gun policy and violence from around the world to:

Demonstrate both the weaknesses of current federal gun policies and the efficacy of various state laws designed to reduce firearm availability to high-risk groups...Compelling case studies from Australia, Scotland, and Brazil demonstrate effective policy responses to gun violence that have led to significant reductions in gun-related deaths.

I want to share their recommendations/best practices and hope that you will share them with your elected officials as support for a national effort to improve public health and safety. And, it would not hurt to talk them through with your local and state officials because concealed carry regulations will be enacted there long before we get anything done at the federal level.

The recommendations/best practices are:

Background checks: Establish a universal background check system for all persons purchasing a firearm from any seller.

High-risk individuals: Expand the set of conditions that disqualify an individual from legally purchasing a firearm.

Mental health: Focus federal restrictions on gun purchases by persons with serious mental illness on the dangerousness of the individual.

(Editorial Comment: And, at the same time, invest our considerable resources in creating better treatment for those who need it)

Trafficking and dealer licensing: Appoint a permanent director to ATF and provide the agency with the authority to develop a range of sanctions for gun dealers who violate gun sales or other laws

Personalized guns: Provide financial incentives to states to mandate childproof or personalized guns.

Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines: Ban the future sale of assault weapons and the future sale and possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines.

Research funds: Provide adequate federal funds to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, and National Institute of Justice for research into the causes and solutions of gun violence.

And, when you Facebook your elected official, cite the research from Daniel W. Webster & Jon S. Vernick. Webster is Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health & Director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research, Deputy Director of Research for the Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, and Director of the PhD program in Health and Public Policy. Vernick is Associate professor of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

Make note of the results of their national public opinion poll which reflects support among the majority of Americans -- including gun owners -- for stronger gun policies. It is time. One by One. Put Down our Guns.