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Other Voices: What to do about gun violence?

We are all concerned about gun violence, but what should we do? It wasn’t long after the mass shooting in Colorado on July 20 that the subject of guns became part of discussions by the presidential candidates.

President Obama, who supported gun control back in his U.S. Senate days, suggested more-detailed background checks for people who want to purchase guns and restrictions to keep mentally imbalanced individuals from buying guns.

The president seemed to be putting his toe in the political water to test the temperature. It’s hard for anyone to argue against trying to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people, and he didn’t say anything likely to mobilize gun lovers.

Mitt Romney, when pressed in an interview, said he didn’t believe America needs new gun laws. And yet, he signed a bill as Massachusetts governor that banned some assault-style weapons similar to ones used in the Colorado slayings.

At the time, Romney described such weapons as “instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”

Meanwhile, gun bills related to assault weapons are being proposed in Illinois, California and New York.

Is this the right climate for it? The Associated Press reports violent crime has been declining and the murder rate is less than half what it was two decades ago.

And Gallup polls are showing support for gun laws has been decreasing over the past 20 years. Perhaps laws discouraging assault weapons would be easier to sell.

While some are focusing on guns, others, such as Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine professor who directions the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, are proposing a public health approach.

Dr. Stephen Hargarten, who treated victims of the Sikh temple shootings early this month, is another expert who proposes a science-based examination of the problem.

“What I’m struggling with is, is this the new social norm?” said Hargarten, emergency medicine chief at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee and director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

The circumstances of gun violence are a public health issue that should be discussed, he said.

“Do we wait for the next outbreak, or is there something we can do to prevent it?” Hargarten asked.

Many people have asked themselves what drives mass shooters to commit the horrible acts. Is there some way to identify those who might be at risk of doing it and possibly prevent it from happening?

A science-based study of the problem would be a logical step in the direction of finding what causes such heinous behavior and perhaps finding a way to protect the public.

Gun control is always a hot-button political issue. Maybe what the candidates should be discussing is what can be done to discover what causes people to become time bombs and how to stop them before they explode and cause disasters.

 Lubbock Avalanche-Journal