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If we accept the behavioral premise that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” in the gun debate, we must also recognize our role in ensuring that every person who chooses to exercise his or her Second Amendment right does so responsibly. Given that on average 100,000 people are shot or killed with a gun in a year, or that mass shootings seem to be on the rise along with gun sales and access to guns overall, we should also get real about the idea that there is much “control” in our current system of “gun control.” Instead of reinforcing a false paranoia narrative about “control” and limiting rights, it’s time to reframe the conversation about guns to focus on how we address the realities of human behavior to more effectively prevent gun violence and protect our safety.

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We know that humans can be irrational, suffer from mental illness or deep depression or lash out in the heat of anger. According to the Harvard Injury Control Center, higher household gun ownership correlates with higher rates of homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings. Studies also show that some 41 percent of gun-related homicides and 94 percent of gun-related suicides would not occur if no guns were present.

A study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health found that women living in homes with one or more guns were more than three times more likely to be killed in their homes; and that “women killed by a spouse, intimate acquaintance or close relative were seven times more likely to live in homes with one or more guns and 14 times more likely to have a history of prior domestic violence compared to women killed by non-intimate acquaintances.”

We also know that children can be curious: According to one study, children ages 5 to 14 are 11 times more likely to die from an accidental gunshot wound in the U.S. than children in other developed countries. Human behavior also tells us that too many people will skirt the rules or exploit loopholes where they can: Roughly 40 percent of gun sales occur without a background check at a federally licensed dealer. Humans will also try to do the right thing where they can; an analysis by Mother Jones magazine found that “in recent rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, they not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed.” In other words, putting more guns into the hands of more people is not the solution to decreasing the number of people killed in a rampage.

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The behavior seen too often here inside the Beltway is to cry outrage in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy but lose courage during the legislative process. This time the conversation can’t be allowed to disintegrate into partisan bickering. The majority of Americans who support ensuring responsible behavior — Democrats, Republicans, NRA members, non-gun owners, urbanites and suburbanites — must keep the pressure on every elected political leader and call for a holistic approach to America’s gun problem. Congress and the Obama administration have any number of common-sense proposals they could act on immediately.

Those who get weak in the knees should think about the behavior of the teachers and school staff who stood up to a deranged gunman and the courage of the survivors — most notably the children — who start the long journey of standing up to their fears as they move forward with their lives.

karen finney

Karen Finney
The Hill

Monday, 17 December 2012