America’s Gun Violence Culture: The New Normal?

Americans cannot allow gun violence to continue to happen in towns across the country at the frequency it is occurring, and to the degree in which it’s now being considered the “new normal.” Instead use the empathy and compassion expressed by many as inspiration in the continuing growth of our community. We must understand that killing our fellow human beings is not an acceptable response to anger or resentment.

At the UCSB vigil May 24, 2014, we lit candles in solidarity for the pain and suffering felt by families and friends who lost loved ones the day before, giving strength in response to senseless violence with compassion. We are grateful for the millions who choose to respond to the vicissitudes of life not with hate and confrontation but with knowledge and understanding.

Josh Horwitz, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence responded to the Isla Vista tragedy:

“Neither current federal nor state policies adequately reduce access to firearms by individuals who are at an elevated risk of violence, whether due to mental illness, a history of violent crime, perpetration of domestic violence, or alcohol or drug abuse. Individuals at high risk of committing gun violence should be disqualified from purchasing and possessing firearms. Families in crisis need tools. A gun violence restraining order could help. Such a practice would allow people to petition the court to request that guns be temporarily removed from a family member or intimate partner who poses a credible risk of harm to self or others. Respondents to an order issued through such a process would be prohibited from buying guns and required to relinquish all firearms in their possession for the duration of the order.”

Most counties in California use a mental health treatment standard based on a person’s likelihood of being dangerous instead of using a more progressive ‘need for treatment’ standard. California has a law regarding highly symptomatic individuals with severe mental illness that counties may choose to implement. Laura’s Law, operant in Nevada County, allows courts to compel individuals, with a past history of arrest, hospitalizations, threats or attempts of serious violent behavior towards self or others, to get mental health treatment provided by the county as a condition for living in the community.

Across the nation doctors are speaking out against gun violence. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine indicates that gun ownership does not make a country safer. The report also found another factor in the level of gun violence: “Mentally ill people who are not in treatment, are more violent than the rest of the population.”

Mass shootings shock the nation into awareness, and yet another horrific slaughter of innocents by gun violence keeps occurring. The American people must take action to prevent these tragedies from happening. And happen they do every day.

We can agree: There are too many gun deaths in America – averaging 87 per day = over 30,000 yearly – making gun violence a public health menace.

We can also agree: guns are here to stay. No one’s going to take your gun away. That’s a gun lobby fear tactic. Gun violence prevention organizations don’t talk about banning all guns. They talk about reasonable gun policies and work closely with law enforcement and elected officials.

We must take action. If you have a gun in your home, perhaps it’s time to consider it not as a means for safety but a dangerous killing instrument – unwanted in your home. CAGV, in collaboration with the Santa Barbara City Police Department is holding the first-ever Gun Buyback on the Central Coast • Sat., June 14th 8 a.m. – Noon • Earl Warren Showgrounds. More info: (805) 564-6803.

Toni Wellen is the chair of the Santa Barbara Coalition Against Gun Violence. She lives in Carpinteria.