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Guest column: Gun massacres have become America’s Rorschach test

The health of our nation’s psyche is in the balance
By Steve Forrester

The Daily Astorian

Published on February 22, 2018 8:23AM

Last changed on February 22, 2018 8:50AM

President Donald Trump listens to Carson Abt, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., as he hosts a listening session Wednesday with high school students and teachers at the White House.

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Donald Trump listens to Carson Abt, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., as he hosts a listening session Wednesday with high school students and teachers at the White House.

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A Eugene woman I know is an avid duck hunter. In fact, hunting and fishing drew her to the man who would become her husband. Last Friday this mother of two sent a message to her friends with “a simple plea.” She urged that they call the NRA to cancel their membership.

“Tell them you are breaking up with them, and tell them you no longer support policies that are leading to mass shootings of children,” she said. “Then, take that money that would have gone to the NRA, and pledge it instead to Every Town for Gun Safety or Sandy Hook Promise or”

She added: “I’m not asking you to stop hunting or to get rid of your handguns. But I ask you to imagine your own child (or grandkid, niece, nephew, or neighbor), happily walking into school…and being shot by someone who definitely should not have a gun.”

Some 25 years ago, Columbia Forum brought Dr. Linda Erwin of Legacy Emanuel Hospital here. A trauma surgeon, Dr. Erwin spoke eloquently and emotionally that night at Fort Clatsop about what it’s like to treat gunshot wounds. She’s become a leader in what might be called the physician resistance to the business-as-usual tolerance of gun violence.

The first step in moving beyond ignoring an epidemic that takes some 30,000 American lives per year is realizing that it doesn’t have to be this way. The state of Connecticut took that step in 2012, following the Sandy Hook massacre. Writing in The New York Times on Sunday, Lisa W. Foderaro and Kristin Hussey report that gun woundings and killings have declined in states that impose controls on gun sales.

“Analyses by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence show that states with the strictest gun-control measures, including California, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, have the lowest rates of gun deaths, while those with the most lax laws like Alabama, Alaska and Louisiana, have the highest,” report Foderaro and Hussey.

When it comes to massacres such as last week’s in Florida or the prior one in Las Vegas, the military-grade weapons at the heart of those maelstroms have nothing to do with hunting or target shooting. Assault weapons are designed to kill humans with efficiency in battle. Why would it be a good idea to allow sales of such weapons to anybody with a credit card and a mailing address?

Dr. Erwin and others, such as David Hemenway of the Harvard School of Public Health, argue that gun woundings, killings and suicides are a public health challenge. In other words, if a disease were taking this many lives annually, medical researchers would fashion a response. For some years, the Centers for Disease Control gathered statistics on gun woundings, killings and suicides — until the National Rifle Association compelled a compliant Congress to forbid the CDC from collecting and reporting those numbers.

That repudiation of health care logic summarizes what the NRA, through its surrogates in Congress, is asking us to do — be willfully ignorant of essential information.

The public health physicians are right in their approach to gun violence. But also in the balance is the health of our own psyche.

These gun massacres have become America’s Rorschach test.

Fareed Zakaria of CNN on Sunday noted that other nations have as much mental illness as ours, but they don’t have the epidemic of gun massacres.

As Maureen Dowd wrote in a column in The New York Times, America may be in the throes of great disruptions and anxieties, but it doesn’t take any soul searching to know that “treating children as collateral damage is intolerable.”

Steve Forrester, the former editor and publisher of The Daily Astorian, is the president and CEO of EO Media Group.


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