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Diane W. Mufson: When will we value kids more than guns?

Dec. 19, 2012 @ 12:05 AM

It's less than a week since the unbelievable and dreadful murders of 20 innocent young children and many school personnel in Newtown, Conn. This unimaginable scene of carnage resonates throughout our nation and across the globe.

We are saddened and outraged. "How can anyone do such a dastardly act?" we ask. Mass shootings in an American elementary school are not things we understand. But by now we know that massacres occur in many places in our nation, and our children are often in the line of fire.

Without curtailing Americans' second Amendment rights, it is time to face reality. We must value our children more than our guns.

Newtown's mass killings join too many others of recent vintage including those at the Aurora, Colo., movie theater, Tucson, Ariz., shopping plaza, the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and Columbine High School. In Huntington, we remember the four high school students murdered on a prom night.

There are some extremely disquieting statistics from the Children's Defense Fund (CDF). Between 1979 and 2009, firearms killed 116,385 children and teens. In 2008-2009, guns killed 5,740 youngsters. This is more than the number of American military personnel killed in action (5,013) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We are distressed -- and we should be -- that our nation lost so many troops fighting these wars. Why aren't we distraught about losing so many youngsters right here in the United States to guns? If we really were, we would do something about it.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that, "Two million children live in homes with loaded, unlocked guns." In many of these cases, the parents claim the children don't know where the guns are and have no idea how to use them. The CDC says that is inaccurate; many children admit knowing the location of the guns and actually handling them.

Recently a 13-year-old girl on a Florida school bus was accidentally shot and killed by a 15-year-old boy who was showing off his stepfather's "hidden" gun. This was an accident; he had only wanted to impress his classmates.

We are neurotic about protecting gun rights but not about protecting children. In 2011, Florida's legislature passed a law making it illegal for pediatricians to inquire whether guns are in patients' homes. The NRA strongly supported this, but in 2012, a federal judge blocked this legislation saying it deprived physicians of their first amendment rights. Doctors advise patients on various preventative health issues; guns kill children too often. That's a health issue.

We need the ban on assault weapons that was in place from 1994 to 2004 to be reinstated. Sports enthusiasts and ordinary individuals do not need assault weapons. Such a ban won't protect all our youngsters, but it would be a start. Parents need to understand their responsibility to keep guns securely out of children's hands. It is also time to admit that mental illness has a significant impact on these gun deaths, but the way many mental health laws are written often makes it impossible to take preventative action.

The CDC reports that among 23 high-income countries, 87 percent of all children under age 15 killed by guns were in the United States. This is shameful.

Until the Newtown shootings, politicians were too afraid to displease the NRA and gun enthusiasts about reasonable firearm limitations. Perhaps, the tipping point has now occurred and action will be taken to show that we value our children more than guns.

Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.



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