By Kathryn G. Menu
In the wake of the tragic shooting death of 20 small children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn. last Friday, many government leaders have renewed calls for stronger gun control legislation. They have also addressed the importance of comprehensive mental health care amid calls for a cultural shift eliminating the glorification of gun violence as entertainment.
Police say that last Friday, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, a resident of Newtown, killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School before shooting and killing himself. Lanza had already shot and killed his mother, Nancy, earlier that morning before heading to the school.
According to National Public Radio, Lanza was armed with a high-powered rifle, two handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition when he arrived at the school.
Congressman Tim Bishop, who represents the 1st Congressional District in Suffolk County, said on Monday he favors “common sense restrictions” on guns and ammunition and called for the reinstatement of a federal ban on assault weapons — a law that expired in 2005.
“I said at the time I thought it was a terrible, terrible mistake we allowed it to expire,” said Bishop.
“I think we should be putting in place legislation that would ban high capacity magazines,” he added. “In New York, you cannot buy a magazine that carries more then 10 rounds.
“If that had been in place in Arizona last year a lot of people in Tucson would still be alive, a lot more people in Aurora, Colorado would be alive,” he said referring to the shooting that seriously injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and left six others dead in January 2011 and another at a movie theater this past summer in which 12 were killed. “There is legislative action we can take that is reasonable.”
Bishop wondered how many mass shootings it would take before government leaders were willing to take forceful, but reasonable action. He also would like to see loopholes closed that allow the purchase of guns at gun shows without a background check.
“Enough is enough. It wasn’t enough after Columbine, and then not enough after Tucson, and not enough after Aurora,” he said. “Now that 20 first graders have been killed if that is not enough, I don’t know what is. Is it 50 kindergarteners? When do you finally put your foot down and say we cannot go on this way and we have to summon the will and political courage to take on the special interests and make this happen?”
Bishop said ensuring that mental health care is available and comprehensive is critical.
“I think on the federal level the thing we can do to be the most helpful is to protect funding that flows to institutions and individuals that provide counseling and care,” said Bishop. “One of my fears is, if we do take a jump off the fiscal cliff, the kind of programs that provide health care or access to remedies will be cut.”
“We have to take this more seriously than we do, both in diagnosis and treatment,” he adds. “We need to bring more resources to the table to help more people.”
Bishop agreed with calls for a change in culture, particularly in terms of the glorification of violence, but felt that a first step should be to see these “weapons of mass destruction” unavailable for purchase.
“That is a very sane, very reasonable first step,” he said. “Let me tell you, losing 20 six-year-olds is mass destruction and it is preventable.”
New York Senator Charles Schumer agreed, and is calling for a ban on high-capacity clips and for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban on the federal level. He also said the country should explore how it can prevent criminals and mentally-unstable individuals from obtaining weapons like those Lanza used at Sandy Hook.
“The horror of what happened is beyond words and leaves a permanent lump in your throat,” said Schumer in a statement. “To senselessly lose so many innocent lives breaks your heart.”
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to all who lost a loved one in Newtown, to all who are injured, and to those who survived,” he added. “The people of New York will help in any way we can as our fellow citizens struggle to comprehend these events. Perhaps an awful tragedy like this will bring us together so we can do what it takes to prevent this horror from being repeated again.”
On Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama announced the creation of a task force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, to provide recommendations on how to reduce gun violence. President Obama said he expects concrete recommendations in January, and no later.
New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand praised President Obama’s announcement in a statement issued Wednesday.
“I stand firmly with President Obama’s call to action today for a comprehensive approach that refuses to accept gun violence as routine,” she said. “Congress has ducked action on common sense gun laws for too long.”
“Keeping our children safe from the scourge of gun violence is not a Republican or a Democratic principle, this is an issue for all Americans,” she continued. “There is no political ideology that finds this loss of life acceptable. The truth is that supporting the Second Amendment and reducing gun violence are compatible and consistent. Responsible gun owners vehemently oppose the kind of gun violence afflicting the streets of America.”
On the state level, prior to President Obama’s announcement, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele also called for the creation of a national commission to devise an action plan to address a comprehensive list of issues, including gun control.
“Gun safety, mental health care, and the underlying culture that extols and glorifies violence must all be a part of the national discussion,” said Thiele. “Piecemeal or symbolic gestures are not enough.”
On Monday Thiele said while New York has an assault weapons ban in place, it could be expanded to outlaw 50-caliber guns and any military-style gun.
“If there is a law that could have prevented the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut we should find common ground to pursue it,” said New York State Senator Ken LaValle. “That said, New York State has some of the toughest gun laws on the books … The majority of gun crimes committed in New York State are by criminals who use illegal guns. I believe we should take steps to curb illegal gun use by increasing penalties and enacting mandatory minimum sentences.”
“The other portion, I think, is obviously the mental healthcare system,” said Thiele. “New York, especially with Medicaid funding to a large degree, has better mental health care than most but anyone who looks around the East End knows how hard it is to find services.”
“And then obviously, there is the cultural aspect of this – the movies and video games that glorify violence. We have to change this on a basic level,” he added. “I know it looks like a daunting task, but I think back 20 or 30 years ago in terms of people’s attitudes about smoking and drinking and driving, and we have been able to change that culturally.”
Thiele said for himself, and he hopes for others, the tragedy of Newtown is a turning point – and a moment that must not be forgotten with the passage of time.
“This is where common sense should prevail, where the public rises up and says, ‘no more, we need to stop this’. In President Obama’s presidency alone, he has had to go to four different places to console families who have suffered because of gun violence.”