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Published: Monday, 12/24/2012

COMMENTARY

Of a tragic Christmas 2012 and another cry for gun control

BY DR. S. AMJAD HUSSAIN
BLADE COLUMNIST

I had intended to write a joyful and upbeat column about the Christmas season. The national tragedy in Newtown, Conn., compelled me to change my focus.

What happened there has happened with alarming frequency in our country. We predictably respond to such tragedies by condemning the act, mourning the dead, and consoling the bereaved.

We then go on with our lives and all but forget about the tragedy until the next one occurs. The cycle continues.

Talking heads, political pundits, and politicians have been in overdrive explaining, pontificating, and talking about the ugly and unpredictable effects of mental illness. They also are talking about gun control.

President Obama, in a tearful address, said Americans have to come together to take meaningful action to prevent tragedies such as this, regardless of the politics.

It usually takes a tragedy of such magnitude to refocus national attention on the root of the problem. But meaningful gun control has been next to impossible. Complicit in this willful neglect are our politicians and the powerful gun lobby that supports them.

It has been said that given the enormity of the tragedy, we may be able to pass a comprehensive gun control law this time. I am not holding my breath.

The problem of gun-related violence has to be addressed on three levels: comprehensive gun control laws, care of the mentally ill, and revisiting the Second Amendment.

Cheap slogans such as “guns don’t kill people, people do” aside, we should take note of the easy availability in this country of all kinds of guns, including many types of assault weapons. These weapons are meant for combat, not hunting. They have no purpose in civilian life.

We have the highest number of murders of any industrialized country. We have five murders a year for every 100,000 people. Sweden has half as many. In our country, more than 30,000 people die annually because of guns.

In 1996, the Australian government enacted the National Firearm Agreement, under which authorities bought back 65,000 guns from owners. Before 1996, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia. There have been none since.

In the United States, 40 percent of all gun sales do not require a background check. In Canada, there is not only a waiting period of 28 days, but also a requirement that two citizens vouch for the purchaser.

There is the issue of mental illness. The Newtown killer got his hands on his mother’s guns. He murdered her and went on his rampage.

Funding cuts, difficulty of access, and social stigma contribute to the problem. The Affordable Care Act is supposed to address some of these inequalities and inadequacies.

Then there is the Second Amendment, which states: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

For more than 100 years, the intent and spirit of the amendment were clear. In the mid-1970s, the National Rifle Association, until than a nonpolitical organization dedicated to gun safety, transformed itself into a politically active organization that has convinced a segment of society that the amendment covers civilians as well as militias. Former U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger called the individual-rights theory a fraud.

Not anymore. Given the rightward tilt of the Supreme Court, it appears that comprehensive gun control legislation may not be palatable to the likes of Justice Antonin Scalia. A die-hard originalist, Justice Scalia is fond of interpreting the Constitution narrowly and often in ideological hues.

Here is a list of innocent children and adults who have become statistics in the debate over gun control:

Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Rachel D’Avino, 29; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; Ana Marquez-Greene, 6; Dylan Hockley, 6; Dawn Hochsprung, 47; Madeleine Hsu, 6; Catherine Hubbard, 6; Chase, Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, 7; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; Victoria Soto, 27; Benjamin Wheeler, 6, and Allison Wyatt, 6.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

Contact him at: aghaji@bex.net



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