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The Journal Gazette

  • Myers

Friday, August 09, 2019 1:00 am

Gun violence calls for many urgent steps

Dr. Woody Myers

Do something.

That was the plea Monday in Dayton. And the day before in El Paso. And before that in Gilroy, and before that in many other communities across the country.

Our country is in pain. Our nation is in shock.

Gun violence in America is an epidemic – more dangerous than Ebola, because proximity is not required and death can be transmitted from hundreds of yards away. And the precursors to this epidemic are easily spread in online chat rooms in all 50 states and from overseas.

We are not the only country that struggles with violent racists, domestic abusers or psychotic killers. But we are the only country where this keeps happening. Why? Because we are the only advanced country with widespread and easy access to weapons of war. And with weapons of war, everything is worse.

In Dayton, law enforcement did its job in 30 seconds, which with an assault rifle and a 100-round magazine in the hands of a coward is all it takes to cost American lives.

Mental illness can create psychopaths who are still today, even after Sandy Hook, easily able to find guns and ammunition and to kill at will. Anger and frustration and hate can create sociopaths who are still today, even after Columbine, easily able to find guns and ammunition and to murder.

And we in Indiana are not in any way immune. Dayton is about 40 miles from Indiana. And Chicago, touching the Indiana border, just had its worst weekend of gun violence this year with seven dead and 52 wounded, some of whom still desperately cling to life.

A governor has no higher duty than to help protect the citizens of the state. And that protection is required before, during and after gun violence.

Stronger federal gun laws (like mandatory background checks) are important, but not the only answer. Better systems to identify and to report those at high risk for committing mass murder (like law enforcement monitoring of online threats and “cooling off” periods and screening of those accused of domestic violence) before they can purchase firearms are important, but, again, not the only answer.

Research to better understand and to better predict the factors leading to gun violence is vitally important as well, but is limited by what is called the Dickey Amendment, which hinders our health agencies like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting the research we desperately need.

This epidemic will require far more than thoughts and prayers. What we need, more than ever, now, is the immediate and active collaboration between law enforcement and public health leaders, gun safety experts, psychologists and psychiatrists to “do something” – something more to solve the problems.

We need our state legislators and our mayors and our congressional representatives to cooperate effectively and urgently to determine what new steps we take at the local, state and federal levels to make it less likely that you and I and our friends and loved ones suffer like Dayton. Like El Paso. Like Chicago. Like Noblesville West Middle School. And like Indianapolis Martindale-Brightwood  where I grew up.

I am a gun owner. My dad gave me the shotgun he used when we went rabbit hunting together when I was a boy. Before he died, he gave me his favorite pistol. In the days when I had more time, I'd travel to target ranges with my other firearms. I personally took two of my five children to an approved gun safety class (and re-took it myself) before I'd allow them to handle weapons.

Gun ownership is a right, but it is a right that comes with local, state and federal requirements that must be met. Not everyone is capable of the enormous responsibility required. Gun safety is a societal responsibility. That is why we must have strong laws and effective monitoring to ensure that only those capable and accountable are in possession.

There is no one answer. There are many. It is not hopeless. We can do something more. And that is what leadership is all about – taking on tough problems, and finding solutions that work.

Dr. Woody Myers is former Indiana health commissioner and a 2020 candidate for the Democratic nomination for Indiana governor.