We can do more to prevent shoot­ings — here’s how

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION - GAREN WIN­TE­MUTE Garen Win­te­mute is Baker-Teret Chair in Vi­o­lence Pre­ven­tion in the De­part­ment of Emer­gency Medicine at Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis. He wrote this for the Sacra­mento Bee.7

Yes, again.

In an­other it-can’t-hap­pen-here com­mu­nity, a young man has taken the lives of many oth­ers, and then his own.

El­e­ments of the story in Thou­sand Oaks are all too fa­mil­iar. He was known to his neigh­bors and law en­force­ment to be deeply trou­bled. He was not pro­hib­ited from pur­chas­ing or pos­sess­ing firearms, though he had been eval­u­ated ear­lier this year for the pos­si­bil­ity of se­vere men­tal ill­ness. He had a high-ca­pac­ity am­mu­ni­tion mag­a­zine.

Fa­mil­iar, yes, but it should not be the new nor­mal.

We can prevent mass shoot­ings. Ad­e­quate back­ground checks can stop many high-risk per­sons from buy­ing firearms, whether that risk is a prior his­tory of vi­o­lent crime, sub­stance abuse or se­vere men­tal ill­ness. Ex­tend­ing the pro­hi­bi­tion on gun pur­chases to in­clude mis­de­meanors such as as­sault and bat­tery makes a clear dif­fer­ence.

Un­for­tu­nately, many back­ground checks are in­ad­e­quate. In­for­ma­tion is not re­ported or is mis­han­dled; le­gal am­bi­gu­i­ties can make it dif­fi­cult to know whether events are, in fact, pro­hibit­ing. And even where back­ground checks are re­quired, many peo­ple avoid them.

There is much work to do here. Pro­grams such as Cal­i­for­nia’s Armed and Pro­hib­ited Per­sons Sys­tem can re­cover firearms from per­sons who pur­chased them legally, but then be­came pro­hib­ited from own­ing them. APPS has re­trieved thou­sands of firearms with­out se­ri­ous in­ci­dent. Our group of re­searchers is eval­u­at­ing its ef­fect on risk for fu­ture vi­o­lence.

Per­haps most rel­e­vant to the tragedy in Thou­sand Oaks are gun vi­o­lence res­train­ing or­ders. These court or­ders al­low firearms to be tem­po­rar­ily seized from in­di­vid­u­als in cri­sis. Thir­teen states have en­acted such poli­cies, in­clud­ing eight just this year.

Among them is “pro-gun” Florida, scene of the Park­land school shoot­ing. I am aware of two po­ten­tial mass shoot­ings in Cal­i­for­nia that did not oc­cur be­cause these res­train­ing or­ders pre­vented would-be shoot­ers from ac­quir­ing firearms. These poli­cies have great po­ten­tial and should be more widely adopted, and they should be much bet­ter known in states where they ex­ist.

There have been other hope­ful de­vel­op­ments. Physi­cians and other health pro­fes­sion­als, with strong en­cour­age­ment from many of their pro­fes­sional as­so­ci­a­tions, are step­ping up and mak­ing pub­lic com­mit­ments to dis­cuss firearms with their pa­tients, to of­fer coun­sel on how to store guns safely and to help au­thor­i­ties re­cover firearms in emer­gen­cies.

Be­cause of mass shoot­ings, we all have a per­sonal stake in pre­vent­ing firearm vi­o­lence. Our chil­dren and our grand­chil­dren are all at risk. Each of us must also un­der­stand that we might be the one per­son who, hav­ing seen some­thing, says some­thing.

And we must re­mem­ber that our elected of­fi­cials de­pend on us to guide them. It is our job to let them know that ac­tion to prevent firearm vi­o­lence is on the must-do list.

Amer­ica has a proud tra­di­tion of mo­bi­liz­ing in the face of crises that threaten pub­lic health and safety. We put smart peo­ple on the case to do sci­en­tific re­search, so that we can un­der­stand the cri­sis and the clear­est paths to so­lu­tions. We tell our pol­i­cy­mak­ers to im­ple­ment those so­lu­tions, and we fol­low through to make sure that progress is made.

We have done this for mo­tor ve­hi­cle deaths, heart dis­ease, can­cer and HIV/AIDS. We can do it for gun vi­o­lence.

But re­ally, “we” means you. If you haven’t al­ready, make your own pub­lic com­mit­ment to do your part — what­ever that means to you — to help pro­tect our shared right to live safely.

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