A group of courageous Central Coast residents took on a volatile subject Thursday as they sat down to discuss and debate what to do about America’s rising rate of gun violence. According to national figures, over thirty thousand Americans are killed every year at the end of a gun, both from suicide (19,392) and homicide (11,078); 2009 figures. More than twice that number are injured. The Congressional Research Service says there are over three hundred million guns on the streets of the U.S., one for every man, woman and child in the country.
Of those attending the ‘Prevent Gun Violence’ gathering at Newport’s Visual Arts Center, about 80% were strong gun advocates wanting to make sure that everyone knew that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible and that they fully intend to protect their right to own firearms as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Some were very vocal about it. Others identified themselves as “progressives” seeking ways to curb gun violence.
Those who organized the meeting stated repeatedly that the goal is not about reversing that right – the moderator herself coming from a firearms family. The issue, she said, was what can be done to stop the slaughter of innocent human beings with semi-automatic weapons which are finding their way into the hands of deranged individuals.
From there the room was broken down into smaller sub-groups so that every individual could be clearly heard and that their opinions and observations are noted and honored. At the end, each group reported their findings and recommendations, not precisely as to who said what, but the fact that specific talking points were offered for further discussion.
Among the findings:
* The American people need to understand the full meaning of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution; a citizen’s right to own weapons, whether for protecting the country, protecting oneself, one’s family and home. And that a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling made that very clear.
* Weapons are too easily acquired because of registration and sales information loopholes at gun shows and other venues.
* People with serious mental health issues have easy access to weapons, AR-15 and AK-47 semi-automatic weapons included which have been recently used in shopping malls, movie theaters and schools, most recently at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.
* The U.S. has seemingly abandoned comprehensive mental health care for individuals who desperately need it. Many participants in the discussion asked out loud, “What happened to mental health services?” One explanation was that, back in the 1980’s, mental health care was deemed best administered within communities rather than in consolidated state mental hospitals. Trouble is, community based mental health services are meager at best.
* Sale and possession of semi-automatic weapons, both handguns and rifles, should be illegal, however others said there are enough gun laws on the books already. “Enforce the ones we already have before enacting more,” one man said.
* Schools should have well armed guards and teachers in order to better protect children.
* Gun owners should be forced to have insurance on their weapons like drivers must have insurance on their cars and trucks.
* Gun owners should be required to undergo extensive training before buying a weapon.
* Children should be taught early the rights and rules of responsible gun ownership.
* The country needs a serious discussion about the growth and distribution of violent movies, TV shows and video games, especially those aimed at children and young adults.
* Penalties for using a gun in the commission of a crime should be made far more punitive. “No more plea bargains or slaps on the wrist” one gun owner said.
* A consensus was established that talking things out was very useful.
Another “Prevent Gun Violence” meeting is being scheduled. Plenty of advance notice of meeting day, time and location will be announced to the public, including here on News Lincoln County.