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JP Grace: What should be done about gun violence?

Dec. 17, 2012 @ 11:59 PM

Goldie Taylor, a journalist and commentator on MSNBC-TV who divides her time between New York and Atlanta, has given up her gun.

She so announced on the Sunday morning MSNBC talk show "Up with Chris Hayes" as she, Hayes and a panel of other journalists were mulling over the Newtown, Conn., massacre of 20 first- and second-grade children and eight adults.

The victims included the shooter, Adam Lanza, who committed suicide after first killing his mother, Nancy, at home, then barging into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and carrying out unspeakable mayhem with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and two Glock semi-automatic pistols.

The Newtown shootings clearly were the catalyst for Ms. Taylor's decision to disarm herself voluntarily. However, she cited troubling statistics as the broader context for what many gun owners would surely describe as "a radical move" on her part.

Those stats show that handguns purchased for self-defense and kept at home are far more likely to be used to fire upon family members, friends or neighbors, or else heisted by minors and turned to criminal purposes, such as the Lanza affair, rather than used against intruders.

Police in Newtown said that all three guns employed by Adam Lanza in the massacre had been purchased legally -- by his mother.

Poignant also -- and seldom talked about -- is the reality that of the roughly 30,000 deaths by gunshot recorded in our country annually, more than half are suicides. It's impossible to know, of course, whether those who took their own lives by putting a bullet into their head or heart would have had recourse to pills or to jumping from a building if a gun had not been available.

The fact remains, in any case, that the United States of America ranks among the most violent countries in the First (or industrialized) World, especially for homicide by gunshot. Here are a few comparisons:

From the UK Guardian newspaper, for 2007, is a listing by country of total gun homicides and of gun homicides as a rate per 100,000 population:

Canada, 173, 0.51.

France, 35, 0.06

Germany, 158, 0.19

Israel, 6, 0.09

Japan, 11, 0.01

USA, 9,146, 2.97

England, 41, 0.07

South Africa, 8,319, 7.03

An author and blogger named Juan Cole -- whose blog is titled "Informed Consent" -- had this comment:

"Americans are so brutalized by gun violence that they don't know what it is to live in a low-murder society. They are in with the South Africans and the Mexicans."

What do I think personally? I've already said (in a column published here 8/7/2012), but I'm happy to restate my thoughts:

All gun sales should include a background check on the purchaser and a five-day waiting period.

Gun shows should be outlawed, as well as private (one-to-one) sales with no background check.

Training should be mandated in the use of whatever firearms are purchased. This should include precautions to assure that guns at home are safely locked away out of the reach of minor children.

More needs to be done to flag aberrant or suspicious behavior that could indicate suicidal or homicidal ideation. People who pass a certain threshold of instability -- and I realize that that point may be difficult to determine -- should not be allowed to have access to guns.

The ban on purchase of semi-automatic and automatic weapons, which Congress let lapse in 2004, should be restored.

John Patrick Grace was formerly a reporter, editor and foreign correspondent for The Associated Press. He also lived in France, a low-gun-homicide country, for nine years, teaching at the university level. He is now a book editor and publisher based in Huntington.



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