The depravity of humanity knows no bounds. Witness the carnage in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, this past weekend — and Gilroy, California, the previous weekend.
The mass shootings killed more than 30 people, including the Dayton gunman’s sister. Dozens more were wounded, and irreparable holes torn in families, friendships and communities.
Even the insurance industry recognizes the escalating number of mass shootings in the U.S., offering special insurance coverages for such attacks. Yet the United States remains paralyzed when it comes to solutions.
We invaded Afghanistan and embroiled the country in a still-endless 16-year war when almost 3,000 people were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. But we shrugged when 300,000 people were killed by gun violence at home in the decade following Sept. 11, and continue to do nothing as more than 30,000 continue to die each year.
We know that our politicians, including President Donald Trump, will continue to take their blood money from the National Rifle Association and look the other way. So how can we collaboratively work on actual solutions to gun violence and recruit state and federal officials to support our efforts?
One priority should be to diagnose and confront the root causes of firearms violence. We are in a public health crisis, and the feel-good measures offered — including the omnibus gun control bill proposed by Oregon legislators this year — will do nothing to address the epidemic of violence.
We need substantial federal and state investments in trustworthy, bias-free research into the underlying factors for all kinds of gun violence. Mass shootings, which have claimed 127 lives so far this year, make the headlines in America. But they are a small percentage of the firearm-related deaths and injuries that occur each year; indeed, each weekend.
We know that in Oregon, as generally is true in other states, most deaths by firearms are suicides involving handguns. Firearms are involved in more than 90 percent of murder-suicides and of gang-related homicides. Firearms are used in 65 percent of the deaths of intimate partners.
Those numbers are irrefutable. So is the reality that population-adjusted death rates are higher in much of rural Oregon, where firearms are a part of our culture. And so, our concerns about gun violence should be just as deep as anywhere in the country.
Many of the violence-prevention ideas coming out of Salem are well-intentioned but would accomplish little and thus are a waste of time. But it is counterproductive, and wasteful as well, to spend our time vilifying those proposals and their advocates on social media.
We must end the stigma, especially among men, against getting counseling and other help in dealing with anger, depression and other aspects of behavioral health. Obtaining treatment for mental health should be just as normal — and needed — as getting treatment for a broken leg and other physical conditions.
An excellent example is the behavioral health forums for veterans that will be held throughout state in the coming weeks — from Astoria to Baker City, from Portland to Pendleton and towns in-between. The Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs are to be commended for soliciting ideas from thousands of veterans and then launching the community forums, including in Astoria on Aug. 20.
We need to move as quickly as possible to take advantage of the funding that will be coming through the Oregon Student Success Act for behavioral health programs in our local schools. Students and legislators agreed that youth want and need much greater access to behavioral health services, including school counselors and therapists. Innovative models for providing those services, and for overcoming bullying and related destructive behaviors, exist around the state. We must seek out and build on those good ideas.
We must honor our rural culture and frontier heritage while helping people become better at handling handle disagreements instead of resorting to violence. Families, churches, schools and civic leaders all have a role in teaching and embracing such lessons instead of looking the other way. And we also must spread the word about programs that help people safely escape abusive households.
Without falling victim to fear amid the news coverage of mass shootings, we need practical training in dealing with security issues and whom to alert when we have concerns.
We must take all these steps not because national and state politicians say so, but because these are steps that make sense for our community. As neighbors, we must be willing to talk rationally with one another about violence, about firearms and about building a safer, healthier community.