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We need bold action and brave politicians to stop the mass murders

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We have a big problem in the United States. It is a gun problem. Gun advocates who oppose any type of gun control disagree saying people kill, not guns. Yes, but people use guns to kill more than any other type of peacetime weapon.

These same people. who are against gun control, say that individuals who commit these crimes are mentally ill. Sometimes they do have a diagnosable mental illness prior to the shooting, however, in a number of gun massacres in this country, the perpetrator was not diagnosed with a mental illness which would have precluded him from purchasing a firearm under current regulations. An example: The man who who committed the largest gun massacre in U.S history at an outdoor music festival in Las Vegas.

{mosads}That being said, there is no question about the need for more and better mental healthcare in the United States, but it will be costly and it will take a long time, if ever, to see any impact of mental health treatment on the perpetration of mass murder.


Since we are unlikely to solve our mental health care problem anytime soon, we need to urgently to turn our attention to the guns that are being used to kill unsuspecting people across the country.

These killings have an impact that is way beyond the loss of life and loss of loved ones. Many have serious long term disabilities related to brain and spinal cord damage or trauma-induced mental illnesses, such as PTSD. Gun injuries cause loss of work and the short and long-term costs of care are extraordinary. Further, these massacres are are inexorably robbing us of our freedom to assemble in public places without the fear of being murdered or maimed.

Reducing access to these types of weapons is not going to solve all of our gun problems, but it will reduce mass killings in public places.

According to a December 2015 story in the Atlantic after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, Australia in which 35 people were killed and another 23 wounded, the Australian government responded by “banning automatic and semiautomatic firearms, adopting new licensing requirements, establishing a firearms registry and instituting a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases. They also bought and destroyed more than 600,000 civilian owned firearms.”

All of this took place within months of the event. The story went on to report that “the number of mass shootings in Australia (defined as incidents in which a gunman killed five or more people other than himself) dropped from 13 in the18-year period before 1996 to zero after the Port Arthur massacre.”

Closer to home, analysis of the 1994 assault weapons ban showed mixed results because of exemptions of certain types of weaponry written into the law amongst other reasons, however the author of a study of the effectiveness of the law, Christopher S. Koper, noted that “a new ban on large capacity magazines and assault weapons would certainly not be a panacea for gun crime, but it may help to prevent further spread of particularly dangerous weaponry and eventually bring small reductions in some of the most serious and costly gun crimes.” Those crimes are the crimes of mass murder.

We are unlikely to find a silver bullet, one single intervention, that effectively eliminates all types of gun crimes because the underlying factors that precipitate one-on-one violence, gang violence, domestic violence and mass murders are different. Interventions that reduce deaths and injuries in one type of violence may not be applicable to the others.

However, because almost all of the recent mass murders in this country have been committed with high capacity, rapid firing weapons, if they were not available to the perpetrators the number of people killed would have been far less, approaching zero in some cases. We should follow Australia’s example and quickly move to ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons, not just bump stock devices that can convert one to the other. 

That will never happen you might think. After all, the National Rifle Association has successfully opposed almost every attempt at rationalizing gun ownership. Banning semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity ammunition is a slippery slope they insist. The next step will be the government confiscating all of our guns. This is their tried and true scare tactic, but it is just not true.

We put reasonable restrictions on things all the time without resorting to a total ban. For example, the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 that was signed into law in 2006 mandates that the cold medication pseudoephedrine (e.g., Sudafed) can only be sold from locked cabinets or behind the counter.

It also limits the amount of drug any one person can purchase and it requires individuals to present a photo identification to make the purchase. It also requires retailers to keep information about these customers for at least two years. These restrictions did not become a slippery slope and lead to an outright ban of all cold medications. Rather, they were a reasonable response to an urgent problem.

We were willing to restrict access to a cold medicine and create a registry of purchasers because the drug was being used to make methamphetamine, a dangerous drug of addiction. But we are not willing to restrict access to highly dangerous weapons, or create a registry despite the fact that these types of weapons are used to commit mass murder. This makes no sense.

The NRA and its supporters hide behind the Second Amendment saying (and I paraphrase) “it’s my constitutional right to have a gun to defend myself and my family.” Let’s remember when our Founding Fathers wrote this amendment, guns were pretty primitive.

Would they have taken more care with the wording of this amendment if they could have foreseen that deranged individuals, like the Las Vegas shooter, would amass an arsenal and use it to kill and maim more than 500 people? What’s the matter with us that we cannot take action even when the innocent victims of this weaponry are kindergartners or people enjoying an evening of music and dance? Or people enjoying an outdoor music festival. Is our right to own guns more important than our right to safely assemble in public places? Do we really care more about guns than people? 

Now is time for bold action. We must quickly convene a bipartisan special committee to examine our gun problem. Everything must be on the table including revising or or even overturning the Second Amendment. We must also reinstate and adequately fund firearm research at the Centers for Disease Control and private academic institutions so that we can continue to learn from high quality research what works and what doesn’t when it comes to decreasing gun deaths and injuries.

We must never accept that massacres, like the tragedy in Las Vegas are the price of freedom. They are the cost of inaction.

Patricia Salber, M.D. is the founder and CEO of The Doctor Weighs In, a health care media company that focuses on innovations in health and healthcare. She is an internist, emergency physician, and physician executive with more than 30 years of experience working in almost every aspect of the industry.

Tags Gun control Las Vegas massacre

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