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McCallum: Gun Policies Revisited

Sadly, last week’s shooting at a rural Kentucky high school that left two dead and eighteen injured didn’t seem to hold our attention for very long. We’ve been through this before: memorials with flowers and candlelight vigils; politicians declaring their thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones in the latest shooting spree. But there’s beginning to be an awful sameness to how we process the news, even when the victims are children attending elementary school, or church, two of what we used to think were among the safest spaces imaginable… until now.

With mass shootings on the rise in today’s America, whether in schools and churches or movie theaters and concert venues, we no longer feel safe. In October, we lost fifty-eight at a Las Vegas concert. In November, the biggest mass shooting in Texas history killed twenty-six worshippers in a Baptist church. When the Texas story broke, President Trump was in Japan visiting its prime minister. He described the tragedy as “a mental health problem,” not a gun problem, and declared it was too soon to talk about gun policy.

What was ironic was that his host country has one of the lowest rates of gun crime on the planet. In 2014 there were six recorded gun deaths, compared to more than 33,000 in the U.S. In Japan, handguns are forbidden, and to own the only two types of legal firearms - shotguns and air rifles - citizens must take a class, pass a written exam and undergo background, mental health and drug checks. And gun ownership is not enshrined in Japan’s Constitution.

Here, the number of guns nearly equals the number of citizens, with more than 300 million guns in circulation from sea to shining sea. And there were more than thirty eight thousand deaths from gun violence in this country last year. While in Japan, the total for the year could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

There are three bills proposing what many consider to be common-sense measures to prevent further escalation of gun violence now pending in Montpelier. They address issues including background checks and gun related domestic violence, and testimony will be heard at public hearings tomorrow at the State House.

Vermont, a state with very low rates of violent crime, has a proud tradition of responsible gun ownership. Perhaps a new dialogue about how to stem the rising tide of national gun violence can begin here.

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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