American Gun Violence: A Social Disease

US President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks during a memorial service for the victims and relatives of the Sandy Hook Eleme
US President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks during a memorial service for the victims and relatives of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty-six people were killed when a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary and began a shooting spree. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

"Obama to Give Congress Plan on Gun Control Within Weeks."

Senators and members of the House, previously opposed to any proposals to restrict the sale, resale and/or use of guns are now publicly speaking out. Several suggest that, in the wake of the massacre of 20 kids and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, the time has come to consider some restrictions on the acquisition and use of guns in our nation.

As Bob Dylan asked many years ago:

How many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?"

It's chic, among some in the media, to talk about a "tipping point" or a "point of inflection" in their discussion and debate about major social, political or technology issues. Apparently, no "tipping point" occurred at Columbine, or Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colorado, or Tucson, Arizona, where the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords and others took place. Will the killing of our little baby children at Sandy Hook Elementary School be just that "tipping point"?

Don't count on it. We cannot simply leave it to President Obama and Congress. The lobbying power of both the NRA and the Gun Owners of America will not sit idly by. If past is prologue, they will use every effort to prevent any congressional legislation that limits their perceived rights and protections under the Second Amendment.

Conditions in our country and society in the 21st century are different than on December 15th, 1791. However, to the NRA, the obvious historical differences between our population of 320 million and our nation in 1791 only provide a justification for increased constitutional protection for the use of their guns. Notwithstanding that there is no similarity between today's AR-15 and a musket rifle in 1791.

The more recent mass killings suggest that the political fight during the past several decades about "gun control" is really only the tip of the iceberg. We as a country don't just have a gun control problem. Our gun use is reflective and indicative of a national addiction to violence as a rational choice for conflict resolution. Violence is a disease threatening our daily lives just like cancer, diabetes, strokes, and coronary disease and heart attacks and obesity. As referenced in a blog last week. "Violence lies like molten lava beneath the surface of our society, just waiting to erupt."

Also in a previous blog I wrote about the pioneering work of Dr. Joseph Marshall with his Alive&Free Program at the Omega Boys Club here in San Francisco. He directed our attention to the 1992, a landmark issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which addressed violence as a public health issue. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the surgeon general have long recognized violence as a social disease.

Dr. Marshall reminds us that:

The disease of violence does not just present only a social cost -- violence extracts an economic impact as well. In the public health approach to prevention, one of the first questions to be answered concerns the burden of suffering -- the economic costs to society. Youth violence is a relatively new field, so comprehensive cost estimates are not readily available. Measures of violence in the home and the costs of treatment for victims of violence are among the missing data.

The surgeon general's report provides the best estimate. However, it is based on data nearly over a decade old (2000):

Violence costs the United States an estimated $425 billion in direct and indirect costs each year. Of these costs, approximately $90 billion is spent on the criminal justice system, $65 billion on security, $5 billion on the treatment of victims, and $170 billion on lost productivity and quality of life.

Dr. Marshall works, tirelessly, 24/7, to protect our young people from the ubiquitous disease of violence, particularly gun violence. However, as good and committed as he is, neither he, nor President Obama, can effectively succeed even with the support of Congress. They need an American electorate, like Howard Beale, the anchor of the evening TV news in the 1976 movie Network. He galvanizes the nation, by persuading his viewers to shout out from their windows: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

Or, maybe, we should heed the current advice of a real life New York wife and mother of two young children, Sarah Flicker. Sarah writes:

The best we can do to honor the children and lives lost is to take our sorrow, heartbreak, confusion and anger and transform into action. We have to do more than pray, send good thoughts and sign petitions. We need to have a national conversation. We need to take to the streets in non-violent protest. We need to hold our representatives feet to the fire. We need to come together as families, as neighborhoods, as towns, as cities, as a country, as a planet.

Long live Sarah Flicker and Joe Marshall!