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Gun Owners Hold the Key to Increased Safety

February 4, 2013

A little over a month has passed since the terrible shootings in Newtown, Conn.

After a brief period of national mourning, many of the usual attacks and counterattacks by gun control advocates and the National Rifle Association began. Just listening to the anger and hostility on both sides made me feel discouraged.  Still, I am hopeful that reasonable gun owners will participate in the debate and that politicians will find some common ground.

As many people are saying, the biggest question is this: How do we prevent dangerous people from gaining access to weapons that are privately owned? The shooter in Connecticut found weapons and ammo in his own house because his mother, who became his first victim, had legally purchased them.

It’s easy to blame Adam Lanza’s mother for allowing him access to those weapons. I’m sure she never imagined that her son would use those weapons against her, let alone innocent children. But he did. Regardless of the twisted reasons behind his actions, we can’t escape the fact that easy access to an arsenal made this tragedy possible.

A few years ago, one of my elderly relatives was diagnosed with dementia. He continued to live alone, for the most part. This man’s house was full of guns because he had been an avid hunter and gun collector before his illness. His son, who lived in another city, convinced his father to remove all the guns from his house. Given his father’s age and declining mental health, keeping guns in his house put him, and possibly others, at risk.

I have great respect for gun owners who are mature, responsible and well-trained, who take serious precautions to keep their guns away from children and others who could do harm, accidentally or otherwise. But many gun owners are lax in how they store their guns.

So here is my question: If you are a gun owner, where is your gun right now? Is it locked up? Is it out of sight? Who has access to it? Anyone with a bad temper? Anyone who drinks heavily? What about your teenage son’s reckless friends? Are you sure that you’ve taken proper precautions?

The issue of gun violence is a public health issue, just like cigarette smoking and car accidents. In the 1960s, about 42 percent of the population smoked. But thanks to education and regulation, today only about 19 percent of the population smokes, and researchers estimate that nearly 800,000 lives were saved as a result of this decline.   Similarly, in 1977 only about 12 percent of the population wore seat belts. By 2008, more than 83 percent were wearing seat belts. It is estimated that seat belt usage prevents more than 10,000 deaths per year in car accidents.

But those of us who were alive in the 1960s and 1970s remember how hard it was to change people’s attitudes and behavior toward smoking and seat belts. It took years of education and changing laws to require seat belt usage before the culture really shifted.

I believe the biggest hope to prevent future gun tragedies lies in the hands of today’s gun owners. Gun owners can help reduce gun deaths by tightly controlling who has access to their weapons.  Gun sellers can run sales on gun safes and offer deals on gun safety classes. The NRA could lead the charge in this area by pouring advertising money into commercials promoting responsible gun habits, rather than spending so much money fighting government regulation. I think we should allow research into the causes of gun deaths, and use the information gained to educate our citizens. These actions, together with better background checks and tighter controls on assault weapons and large magazines of ammo, could save countless lives.

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