By Jason KUROSU
The gun control debate has sparked anew, developing renewed nationwide interest following incidents of gun violence such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. The Obama administration has pushed for more in-depth firearm legislation and similar debate continues in California, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country.
At the West Hollywood City Council chambers on April 3, Congressman Adam Schiff moderated a panel discussing the most recent issues regarding firearm safety and what solutions may be pursued to prevent gun violence in the future.
Though the panel clearly favored gun control, Schiff noted, “I grew up in a gun-owning household. I have fond memories of hunting with my father as a child. I certainly understand that the vast majority of gun owners are law abiding and responsible.”
Schiff also said an NRA representative from the state chapter was originally invited to join the panel, but declined.
Among those present were L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, once an NRA member, who said that the organization has changed since he joined the NRA in the 1960s, shifting to a focus on the marketing of automatic, military-grade weaponry.
“How many automatic weapons do you really need to honor your personal safety needs?” asked Baca. “When our Founding Fathers created the Second Amendment, the only weapons that were in existence were rifles and pistols which were limited to one shot apiece. We didn’t envision when we founded this nation that we would be able to create machine guns and the things that are the most lethal weapons in the world today.”
Baca also recommended a national gun buy-back program, in which the government would reimburse citizens for their firearms. Buy-back events have taken place in various U.S. cities, conducted by the respective cities’ police departments.
Retired Senator Jack Scott also spoke about America’s gun culture.
“Do I feel passionately about this? I certainly do,” said Scott. “It has struck me personally. But I am more struck by the fact that there are thousands every day, every year, that die in America as a result of the kind of gun culture that, unfortunately, we have chosen not to check.”
Scott has spent much of his career working on firearm legislation after his son Adam was killed in an accident involving a firearm in 1993. Since then, Scott has pushed for bills that would increase firearm safety and penalties for unlicensed carriers of concealed weapons.
“Thirty-thousand Americans die every year as a result of gun violence,” Scott said. “That’s far more than the number of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think if a plane went down every day with 82 people, we would do something about it. But 82 people die every day from gunfire in the United States and we seem to be helpless to take any action against this matter.”
Among the proposals that will be presented and debated before the Senate are measures which would expand and improve background checks to include individuals with histories of mental health issues, create stricter penalties against weapons traffickers and restrictions on sales of assault weapons and high ammunition magazines. Lawmakers proposing these measures also hope to close loopholes that allow people to purchase guns at gun shows and on Internet sites without undergoing a background check.
Loren Lieb, whose son was injured in a 1999 shooting at a Granada Hills Jewish Community Center, said the shooter, a white supremacist named Buford Furrow, purchased his guns at gun shows without needing to undergo a background check. No one was killed during the community center shooting, but Furrow went on to shoot and kill a postal worker the following day. He is currently serving life in prison.
Since the shooting, Lieb has investigated the ease with which guns can be had, even by those who would otherwise be prevented by the nation’s background checks.
“It’s extremely easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns because about 40% of the gun sales are legally conducted outside the background check system,” Lieb said. “Although background checks have stopped almost two million prohibited persons from getting guns, there’s nothing to stop them from simply buying a gun without a background check at a gun show or from a private sale.”
Another point brought up by many on the panel, including Dr. Anand Pandya of USC’s Keck School of Medicine, was that a large portion of gun violence includes suicides, up to 61% of gun deaths, according to Pandya.
However, Pandya tried to illuminate how gun control can potentially lead to more gun violence, in terms of the mentally ill.
“As a psychiatrist who sees people with mental illness every day, who don’t want to get treatment because they don’t want to be labeled as crazy, because they don’t want their rights taken away, I’m worried about how this is going to deter treatment,” Pandya said. “I’m worried about people who have guns but don’t want to lose their guns, how they won’t get help and may commit suicide.”
Pandya lamented the hardships one must go through just to attain treatment, saying that sometimes mentally ill people must be arrested before they receive any mental health care at all.
“Why is it easier to get a gun than mental health care?” he asked.
Although gun laws are strict in California, it is unclear what position the nation will take as the Senate deliberates over the latest firearm proposals. The opinion of this panel was that whether it is loopholes in the law, a lack of quality mental health care or a nationwide obsession with weapons, gun violence has gotten out of control.
“The mass shootings capture our attention,” said Lieb. “But the equivalent of a Sandy Hook or a Virginia Tech happens every day in communities across the United States.
The Senate will vote on President Obama’s proposals for expanded background checks and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines today.