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mass shootings

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Americans feel sorrow and fear whenever we learn that a gunmen carrying a high-powered firearm has committed a mass shooting. In one week, three shootings occurred in three separate states. While none of them took place on Long Island or even New York, the tragedy still hits home. The situation is for too long unbearable and action is overdue.

We are too often reminded that we aren’t safe whether we are at work, school, a movie theater, a store, nightclub, a concert or a festival. 

After the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018 many school districts on Long Island began contemplating whether or not to have armed guards, while systematically upgrading security in their buildings. Children coming back to school in the Comsewogue School District, for example, will walk through vestibules lined with bullet resistant glass.

One editor was talking about an upcoming garlic festival with a group of friends the other day when one shuddered and said, “Please, don’t go to any garlic festivals,” all in relation to a shooting at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California, July 28. 

After the recent tragedies, with one shooter robbing the lives of 22 in El Paso, Texas, and another killer murdering nine in Dayton, Ohio, with dozens injured in both cities, many have said that we need to remember these events and how we feel when we vote in 2020. Why wait? 

Our local legislators, even members of our boards of education, make decisions that affect our everyday lives. They can write stricter laws when it comes to purchasing and owning guns, allocate funding to patients seeking mental health care or help schools with grants for security. Make sure they are making the decisions you want them to. Even though the 2019 elections involve local municipalities and not federal offices, every legislator can affect laws that protect our lives and well-being.

This week’s headlines made many Americans feel helpless. Police responded to the Dayton shooting in 30 seconds since the first round left the gunman’s chamber. In that time, nine people were dead. The suspect used a 100-round magazine and a semi-automatic rifle. It took five times as long to write this paragraph as it took a murderer to kill nine people.

But there’s something all of us can do. We can vote for those who represent our values. This year and next, the time is now to look deep inside our hearts and ask what we feel is the best route to stop the violence. Then research the candidates who are running for office to see where they stand.

And even before election day, call your local representatives and tell them something must be done now, not after election day.

Every time you vote for a candidate, your ballot is a show of confidence to continue in the political realm. Today’s member of town council can be tomorrow’s county or state legislator or next year’s congressional leader.

Nov. 5, Election Day, will be here before you know it. The time is now to start doing the footwork and for everybody to vote. Our editorial staff will soon be hosting political debates to prepare for our election issue. We’re not waiting until 2020 to ask the candidates tough questions and neither should our readers.

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An assault rifle, the weapon of choice in many mass shootings, including the Feb. 14 massacre at a Florida high school. Stock photo

By Marci Lobel

Our nation is reeling from another school shooting involving a perpetrator who was psychologically disturbed. As we consider ways to prevent such tragedies from recurring, it is important to focus on what is known about gun violence. Only by understanding these facts can we develop strategies that are most likely to be effective.

Marci Lobel is a professor of psychology at SBU. Photo from Marci Lobel

First, the majority of gun violence is committed by people without mental illness. This is well documented by public health experts. A person with mental illness is much less likely than a person without a diagnosable mental illness to commit an act of gun violence. In fact, mentally ill people are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of gun violence. Inaccurate claims equating mental illness with gun violence promote stigma and misunderstanding about mentally ill people and may make it less likely that they will reach out to seek help.

Second, mass shootings are not as common as other acts of gun violence. Mass shootings in schools or elsewhere — churches, movie theaters, congressional softball games, music concerts — understandably receive a lot of attention because these tragedies are exceptionally horrifying, especially when children are victims. Nevertheless, the majority of deaths and unintended injuries by guns are not through mass shootings. Every day in the United States, 93 people die from gun violence on average, according to the key gun violence statistics page on www.bradycampaign.org.

Third, owning a gun or having one accessible puts you at risk of being killed by it. According to research published in 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, homicides, suicides and accidental gun deaths are more numerous among gun owners and others in their household, especially children and women, than among people who don’t own guns. Research also shows that states with higher gun ownership have higher gun homicide rates, even after controlling for other predictors such as poverty and alcohol consumption, and states with gun control laws have fewer gun deaths. Additionally, numerous studies comparing developed countries find that the number of guns per capita is a strong, independent predictor of the number of gun deaths in that country.

“Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well. The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger.”

— Leonard Berkowitz

Fourth, the U.S. Supreme Court has endorsed the constitutional legitimacy of gun restrictions. In 2008, in delivering the opinion of the court, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. [It is] not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. … We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller [a previous court case] said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’ We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’”

Fifth, merely being in the presence of a gun increases aggression. This phenomenon, “the weapons effect,” is well demonstrated by social psychology research, which also finds that people recognize and react to guns very quickly. “Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well,” wrote Leonard Berkowitz in a 1967 study with Anthony LePage. “The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger.”

To truly protect our children, our families, our communities and our nation, we must adopt measures that are consistent with what is known about gun violence. The findings described above suggest that improving mental health outreach and treatment, while important in and of itself, will not solve the much larger problem of gun violence in American society. Stationing armed guards in our schools is not a solution — this endangers our children, teachers and those who work in schools because of the weapons effect described above. And even well-trained professionals are known to make errors in high-pressure situations. As to the idea of arming teachers, there are many more serious flaws with that idea than can be listed here. Furthermore, addressing mass shootings in our schools does nothing to eliminate the 93 gun deaths that occur day in and day out in this country.

Can we enact sensible gun policies? The Supreme Court has ruled that some gun restrictions are constitutional, and evidence indicates that gun control reduces gun deaths, even though it doesn’t completely eliminate them. The vast majority of Americans, including gun owners, support sensible gun policies. So what are we waiting for? We’re waiting for our political leaders to act. Demand action from your elected officials. Make phone calls, send letters, march, protest and vote. Get involved with organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action. Demand action before another 93 people die tomorrow.

Marci Lobel is a professor of psychology and the director of the program in social and health psychology at Stony Brook University.