Pres­i­dent Trump, please lis­ten to a Sandy Hook mom on gun re­form

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Ni­cole Hock­ley

Like all Amer­i­cans, I am dev­as­tated by the sense­less mas­sacre in Suther­land Springs, Texas, that claimed the lives of 25 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 14 chil­dren. The idea that any­one could in­ten­tion­ally plan to kill and hurt so many peo­ple is im­pos­si­ble to com­pre­hend. The an­guish, shock and heart­break felt by the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies, sur­vivors and their en­tire com­mu­nity is im­pos­si­ble for most peo­ple to imag­ine.

Sadly, I can not only imag­ine it, I live with it ev­ery day. It has been al­most five years since the mass shoot­ing at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School that also took the lives of 26 in­no­cent peo­ple, in­clud­ing my sixyear-old son Dy­lan and 19 of his first­grade class­mates.

The pain of his loss, es­pe­cially to such a sense­less and pre­ventable act of gun vi­o­lence, is with me ev­ery day, but it is also what com­pels me to find and de­liver so­lu­tions that help pre­vent fu­ture loss of life.

Un­for­tu­nately, we as a coun­try deal with loss of life to gun vi­o­lence far too of­ten. It has be­come ram­pant, an epi­demic that no other coun­try ex­pe­ri­ences. Two of the five dead­li­est US shoot­ings in mod­ern his­tory hap­pened in the last 35 days.

Af­ter ev­ery mass shoot­ing, I hear ar­gu­ments that have be­come all too fa­mil­iar to me since Sandy Hook. Some ar­gue for “gun con­trol” or “gun free­dom”. Oth­ers like me aren’t ar­gu­ing about the gun, but are rather fo­cus­ing on the per­son be­hind the gun and how their vi­o­lent ac­tions could have been pre­vented.

As quickly as the de­bate about guns starts, it ends. These hor­rific at­tacks fade from the news head­lines quickly, and over and over we are told ‘Now is not the time to talk about gun vi­o­lence.’

The time to talk about gun vi­o­lence is long past for the 25 in Texas, the 58 in Las Ve­gas, the 49 in Or­lando, the 26 in New­town, the 32 in Vir­ginia, and the thou­sands of oth­ers who die from gun vi­o­lence ev­ery year. The time to act is now.

Af­ter the Texas shoot­ing, Pres­i­dent Trump said that this isn’t a “guns sit­u­a­tion” but that “men­tal health is the prob­lem”, and that a “very de­ranged in­di­vid­ual” brought this hor­rific act of vi­o­lence to First Bap­tist Church in Suther­land Springs. Not only is this im­mensely stig­ma­tiz­ing lan­guage, it’s not wholly truth­ful.

Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans live with men­tal health con­di­tions daily and

live healthy, pros­per­ous, vi­o­lence­free lives. Peo­ple who live with se­vere men­tal health con­di­tions are much more likely to be vic­tims of vi­o­lence than per­pe­trate it, and are more likely to hurt them­selves rather than hurt oth­ers. In fact, men­tal ill­ness con­trib­utes to less than 6% of gun vi­o­lence.

The truth is that mis­man­aged and un­in­ter­rupted fear and anger, cou­pled with nearly un­fet­tered ac­cess to guns is what hap­pened in Texas, and sadly in most mass shoot­ings. It’s fear and anger that of­ten es­ca­lates to a point at which the per­son sees no other path ahead of them ex­cept for self-harm or vi­o­lence to oth­ers.

Of­ten, shoot­ers give off warn­ing signs that are either missed, mis­un­der­stood, or ig­nored. These tragedies could have been pre­vented if some­one had rec­og­nized the signs and made an in­ter­ven­tion.

We know the shooter in Suther­land Springs had been jailed for as­sault against his wife and child, and that he sent threat­en­ing text mes­sages to his mother-in-law, had a fas­ci­na­tion with guns and other shoot­ings, and should not have been able to pass a back­ground check.

Though there was an over­sight by a num­ber of par­ties, and pol­icy fail­ures along the way, the truth is that this shooter could have got­ten a gun via a pri­vate or on­line sale in Texas, whether or not his records were cor­rectly sent to NICS. Once again, the signs and sig­nals were there but missed - an­other pre­ventable tragedy.

Cit­i­zens alone can do a lot within their own com­mu­nity to know the signs and take ac­tion to in­ter­vene be­fore vi­o­lence takes place. But there is also much that fed­eral and state leg­is­la­tion can do to pre­vent vi­o­lence.

I am ask­ing you, Mr. Pres­i­dent, to use your in­flu­ence to cre­ate more mean­ing­ful and sus­tain­able so­lu­tions. You, along with Congress, have the power to save lives of thou­sands of Amer­i­cans and make our coun­try safe again.

You have the power to na­tion­al­ize in­ter­ven­tion pro­grams that will train youth and adults how to rec­og­nize the signs and sig­nals of in­di­vid­u­als at-risk of vi­o­lence. You also have the means to put pres­sure on states to com­ply with laws that help pro­tect their cit­i­zens.

Ex­treme Risk Pro­tec­tion Or­ders (ERPOs) are one way to pro­tect fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties from gun vi­o­lence. With ERPOs in place, fam­ily mem­bers or lo­cal law en­force­ment can sup­port some­one who is ad­ju­di­cated as at-risk to them­selves or oth­ers – as in the case of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, sui­cide or homi­cide – and tem­po­rar­ily re­move their ac­cess to firearms and block at­tempted pur­chases un­til they are no longer a risk. ERPOs have been proven to save lives and to pro­tect due process and Sec­ond Amend­ment rights.

ERPOs are es­tab­lished and have been suc­cess­fully man­aged by sev­eral states in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon, Wash­ing­ton, and Con­necti­cut. Ex­treme Risk Pro­tec­tion Or­ders are leg­is­la­tion both Repub­li­cans and Democrats can, and should, sup­port. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment should be do­ing ev­ery­thing it can to en­cour­age states to en­act such leg­is­la­tion that’s been proven to save lives, us­ing the car­rot or stick of fed­eral grant money.

His­tor­i­cally, when the Pres­i­dent and Congress have wanted to man­date na­tional safety rules, like a high­way speed limit or min­i­mum drink­ing age, it has used the power of the purse, mak­ing fund­ing con­tin­gent on states tak­ing cer­tain ac­tions. So, if the gov­ern­ment is se­ri­ous about com­bat­ting gun vi­o­lence, it should put its in­flu­ence where its money is.

Use fed­eral pub­lic safety grants —like high­way or law en­force­ment fund­ing—as a car­rot to in­cen­tivize states to pass ERPOs. In the end, ev­ery­one wins—the fed­eral gov­ern­ment gets states to do what it wants, the states get the money they need, and peo­ple’s lives will be saved by a com­mon-sense law.

There is proof that this ap­proach has worked not only to en­sure state com­pli­ance, but to save lives. In 1974, when the Pres­i­dent and Congress set the na­tional speed limit at 55 miles per hour, road fa­tal­i­ties de­clined 16.4% in just one year. In 1984, Congress pro­posed cut­ting 10% of fed­eral high­way funds to states that did not com­ply with a new na­tional drink­ing age of 21.

Pres­i­dent Rea­gan said, “In a case like this, where the prob­lem is so clear cut and the ben­e­fits are so clear cut, then I have no mis­giv­ings about a ju­di­cious use of Fed­eral in­duce­ments to en­cour­age the states to get mov­ing, raise the drink­ing age, and save pre­cious lives.” Ac­cord­ing to the NIH, drunk-driv­ing ac­ci­dents have dropped by 50 per­cent since the law was passed.

Please, Mr. Pres­i­dent. Refuse to ac­cept these na­tional tragedies as the norm in Amer­ica. Refuse to stop progress and pre­ven­tion by re­main­ing silent. Refuse to be part of an end­less de­bate that goes nowhere but leaves more death and griev­ing fam­i­lies ev­ery day. Help stop gun vi­o­lence be­fore it starts and let this be part of your legacy of pro­tect­ing Amer­i­can lives.

Ni­cole Hock­ley is the co-founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Sandy Hook Promise

‘Dy­lan Hock­ley was killed at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School on De­cem­ber 14th, 2012.’ Pho­to­graph: REX/Shut­ter­stock

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