Published: Jan 22, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Jan 22, 2013 01:16 PM
Last week, the mayors of Durham, Chapel Hill and Morrisville came together in a press conference to demand action from our leaders in Washington to reduce gun violence. Their proposed solutions may appear to make sense on the surface, but it is important we step back and objectively evaluate gun crimes in this country so that our proposed solutions will actually achieve the goal of reducing violence
Unfortunately, the research on gun violence by the Center for Disease Control has been dramatically stifled by political barriers. We should never place political limits on learning, because without such information we cannot make informed policies. Public health research covers a wide range of topics from smoking to car-seat use for children to exercise. We should immediately remove all political barriers hampering objective research on gun violence.
Here are the facts that we do have. There have been at least 62 mass shootings in the U.S. since 1982. These 62 mass shootings resulted in the deaths of 513 people, 103 of which occurred during the assault weapons ban from 1994-2004. Mass shootings, particularly the one at Newtown, Conn., are heart-wrenching tragedies. However, they represent a fraction of the deaths related to firearms in the U.S.
According to the CDC, in 2010 there were 11,078 firearm homicides and 19,392 firearm suicides. According to independent research by Mother Jones, a left-leaning news publication, in 2010, nine deaths out of 11,078 were the result of a mass shooting. Mass shootings stir up emotions and provide politicians with great opportunities to demand action, but do little to inform public policy discussions about how to prevent the deaths of the thousands of Americans that are murdered each year. Will Washingtons proposed new firearm restrictions do anything to prevent the deaths of the vast majority of the victims of gun violence?
Absent from the current discussion is the impact that gang violence and the failed War on Drugs is having on gun violence in the United States. The majority of gun homicides occur in impoverished urban areas where the government wages its War on Drugs most aggressively. Much like during alcohol prohibition, prohibition of marijuana dramatically increases the financial incentive for growing and distributing marijuana. Conflicts over gang turf and sales gone wrong often end in violence rather than being resolved in our justice system. Although the data for todays prohibition is hard to come by, alcohol prohibition enacted by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution resulted in an estimated 78 percent increase in the homicide rate.
The impact of prohibition is also international. In Mexico, over the past six years, it is estimated that nearly 60,000 people have been killed, with over 10,000 in 2012 alone, as a result of organized crime stemming from marijuana prohibition. Latin American nations such Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia and others are beginning a dialogue on ending the War on Drugs. States such as Colorado and Washington have taken the first steps. It is time as a nation, we stepped forward together. None of this is meant to diminish the harms or drug use, but prohibition simply does not work, and ultimately, does more harm than good.
Lastly, as mentioned briefly, the majority of gun related deaths are suicides. This is not a problem you can simply legislate away and it should be quite obvious that restricting the types of firearms and the capacity of magazines will in no way impact firearm suicides. We must take personal responsibility to drive a cultural change of compassion. We must do away with the taboos of depression and suicidal ideation so that more people will be willing to seek help when needed. It is incumbent on each of us to reach out to those in our lives who are struggling. And as communities, we must be willing to take the time to extend a helping hand to those in need. Ultimately, the solution to our problems of gun violence will not come from Washington, but will instead come from our hearts.Jason Melehani is the chairman of the Durham-Orange County Libertarian Party.
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