As the outlook for sensible gun safety legislation isn't positive right now, we are fortunate that the Biden-Harris administration has created a significant six-part program to reduce gun violence. Parts of it mesh well with information I came across in 2019 about evidence-based programs that were working, but lost their funding. Both the relevant aspects of the new administration plan and my earlier blog appear here.
Apart from grieving for our nation, I feel a personal sadness for our President-elect. He is by so many accounts one of the most decent, compassionate, honorable individuals in politics today. His experience makes him uniquely qualified to address the nearly overwhelming problems our nation faces. He has wisely chosen extraordinary individuals to help him in his formidable task. He has reached the pinnacle of an ambition he's held for his entire adult life. Similarly, our Vice President-elect. This should be an unvarnished time of personal pride for Kamala Harris. The first woman, African-American, individual of Indian descent to ascend to this high office, she has demonstrated her brilliance, strength, accomplishments, and yes--compassion. Yet when Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr is sworn in as our 46th President tomorrow outside our nation's Capitol, and Kamala Harris becomes that multiple glass ceiling-breaker Vice President, the area will look like a war zone because of insurrection by extremists goaded by Biden's predecessor.
There’s broad agreement, as noted in Part 1 of this post, that gun violence (indeed, all violence) should be viewed as a public health issue.
That idea was clearly stated by Dr. Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist trained in infectious diseases, when he returned to the US after a decade spent in Somalia, Uganda, and other countries where epidemics of such diseases as cholera, tuberculosis, and AIDs were common. In his final assignment before coming home, he was tasked to design interventions.
As he describes in a TEDMED talk, he was looking for something to do when he began hearing stories of children shooting other children. When he asked friends how America was addressing this issue, one response was through punishment. But, he said, “We who had worked in behavior know that punishment was something…that was highly overvalued” because it wasn’t a main driver of either behavior or behavior change. What’s more, it reminded him of responses to epidemics long ago—before science cast better light on issues.
The front page of Sunday’s New York Times and the story within carry snapshots of the 126 most recent victims of mass shootings. “Inside a Deadly American Summer,” reads the page 1 headline. “An American Summer Stained in Blood,” is the inside title. Both tap into the fear, anxiety, even terror that the overwhelming majority of us feel about mass shootings. “And all we could do is ask why,” notes The Times. “And wait for it to happen again.”
What if I told you that the media’s approach to these clearly horrendous mass shootings, which are increasing in number and frequency, may actually be making us less safe? Suppose we are viewing the issue of gun violence through too narrow a lens—and we are therefore standing in the way of what could be real progress in reducing and preventing the deaths and serious injuries in our gun culture-run-wild?