Gun car­nage is a pub­lic health cri­sis

The New York Times ed­i­to­rial

The Philippine Star - - OPINION -

“We’ll be talk­ing about gun laws as time goes by,” Pres­i­dent Trump promised all too ca­su­ally af­ter the Las Ve­gas gun­man took 58 lives in a rapid-fire slaugh­ter. Time is in­deed go­ing by, and the si­lence is alarm­ing as the Repub­li­can Congress and Mr. Trump, the de­voted can­di­date of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, duck their re­spon­si­bil­ity to con­front the pub­lic health cri­sis of gun deaths.

There were so many hun­dreds of ca­su­al­ties in Las Ve­gas that many were treated by lo­cal Air Force sur­geons who found them­selves serv­ing as spe­cial­ists in triage — in a civil­ian fire zone. “These were def­i­nitely in­juries you would see in a war zone,” one of the doc­tors told The Wash­ing­ton Post. Vic­tims bled from sin­gle wounds through the chest and ab­domen be­cause the gun­man shot from a high perch with mil­i­tary-style weapons adapted to shoot rapidly down­ward into the con­cert au­di­ence that was his cho­sen tar­get.

This is the do­mes­tic war zone now be­dev­il­ing the na­tion as Wash­ing­ton looks the other way. Repub­li­can lead­ers are once again con­triv­ing to di­vert pub­lic at­ten­tion to the chal­lenges of men­tal ill­ness, whereas the core is­sue is and has been the egre­gious avail­abil­ity of mil­i­tary-style weapons that the gun in­dus­try and the NRA are lethally mar­ket­ing to civil­ians. The talk of out­law­ing the “bump stock” de­vice that height­ened the Ve­gas gun­man’s rapid fire is sim­i­larly di­ver­sion­ary, since the prob­lem is the weapon, not the lat­est ac­ces­sory.

Wash­ing­ton has also hob­bled ba­sic re­search into what is clearly a pub­lic health dis­as­ter. In 1996, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion was barred from spend­ing any funds “to ad­vo­cate or pro- mote gun con­trol.” Full and ac­cu­rate fed­eral in­for­ma­tion has been choked off re­peat­edly since then. Re­search or­dered by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama fol­low­ing the Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School mas­sacre of 20 chil­dren in 2012 was never car­ried out. Cal­i­for­nia, by con­trast, has cho­sen a more en­light­ened path. Re­act­ing to the 2015 gun killings in San Bernardino, the state in July cre­ated the Firearm Vi­o­lence Re­search Cen­ter at the Uni­ver­sity at Cal­i­for­nia at Davis to get be­yond the hob­bles the gun lobby and Congress have put on fed­eral re­searchers.

If there is any bright spot it is that lit­tle more than a third of Amer­i­can house­holds own a gun now, com­pared with 50 per­cent in ear­lier decades. Still, this has driven the in­dus­try to try to sell more guns to fewer Amer­i­cans, from bat­tle­field-type weapons to the con­cealed-carry pis­tols mar­keted as stylish vig­i­lante ac­ces­sories. Ac­cord­ing to a 2015 study by Har­vard and North­east­ern Uni­ver­si­ties, 3 per­cent of Amer­i­can adults own half the na­tion’s guns — av­er­ag­ing a star­tling 17 guns apiece.

The Las Ve­gas shooter was one of these hard-core ar­se­nal own­ers. He stock­piled dozens of weapons, ap­par­ently with no one, and no law, to ques­tion the prac­tice or his ra­tio­nale. The gov­ern­ment should be ask­ing how he was able to do this, and how it could have been pre­vented. To the na­tion’s con­tin­u­ing sor­row, how­ever, it’s clear lit­tle can be ex­pected of the pres­i­dent and con­gres­sional lead­ers as time goes by and the next mass shoot­ing draws nearer.

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