Every day on the news, horrific reports of gun violence flash across the screen. In offices across America, the latest mass shooting is a simple conversation topic with your morning cup of coffee. An issue of this severity should not be so common that we are desensitized. Guns were created to protect and defend, but it is a deadly error when this powerful object ends up in the wrong hands.
Something needs to change so that everyone can go to church, school, restaurants, and other favorite public places without fear. Gun violence is an ever-growing threat to the well-being of families and communities. As nurses, we see this as a public health issue.
Just this past year, there have been more than 600 mass shootings across the country. These devastating crimes are not committed by people who are mentally healthy, fully aware of their actions, and trained in gun safety. Sane individuals do not willingly destroy lives, families, and communities. We must keep guns out of the hands of people who would. Required education with gun safety certification is one way to do just that.
Federal law restricts a person from owning a gun under two circumstances determined by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority. One case is if they are a danger to themselves or others or lack the mental capacity to manage their affairs because of a mental condition or illness. The second case is if they have been involuntarily hospitalized or committed to a mental health or substance abuse treatment facility. Those are the current national restrictions on owning a gun.
As required by law, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) conducts background checks on people who want to own a firearm. However, no federal law requires states to report court findings, hospitalizations, or mental health records. So, there are people who would be disqualified according to federal regulations, but will still have access to purchasing a gun because certain events were not required to be reported and therefore may be undetectable on a NICS background check. We need a better way to assess potential gun owners and provide education so guns are not misused.
Since basic restrictions could go a long way to protect our citizens, it seems like a logical solution. However, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has consistently voiced strenuous opposition to any form of gun control. They claim that allowing more citizens to own guns creates a safer society and present concern for the removal of our constitutional rights. Afraid of changing the status quo, the NRA has unwaveringly defended the Second Amendment. But when the status quo is not keeping people safe, it’s time for a change. Instead of adamant inflexibility, the NRA could work with lawmakers to keep guns out of the hands of unsafe individuals.
A simple solution to gun safety that the NRA should be able to get behind is mandated education. Connecticut is consistently ranked to have some of the strictest gun laws in the nation and, according to the Giffords Law Center, is graded an A- on its annual gun law scorecard. Yet, Connecticut still lacks safety standards.
We can look to our neighboring states for examples of steps to ensure safe firearm purchases. In New York, Bill S1701 was recently developed and is going through the state legislature. This bill will require persons possessing firearms to hold a safety certificate. If the bill passes, all new gun owners would have to undergo five hours of classroom instruction on gun safety and gun regulations and then two hours of hands-on education at a firing range. The purpose of this bill is to reduce the number of unintentional shootings by ensuring all gun owners know how to use and store their firearms safely. It also requires that all gun owners demonstrate knowledge of current laws.
Would Connecticut consider educational courses for firearm owners? Creating a safety culture around guns will reduce the amount of misuse and, therefore, mitigate preventable trauma and deaths.
The death of a 15-year-old boy in Hartford in early October marked the city’s 32nd gun death of this year. With these increasing homicide rates, Hartford Hospital, Yale New Haven Health, Connecticut Children’s Hospital, and Saint Francis Hospital have joined the nationwide campaign for public awareness and interventions in preventing death by gunfire. These Connecticut Hospitals intend to decrease the number of deaths by addressing and screening families with firearms. This campaign hopes to encourage families to ask others confidently about access to firearms and storage.
Unfortunately, current gun regulations have failed us. Too many people are fearful of living in a society with guns. Parents fear for their children’s lives as they go off to school. We hope lawmakers will see this as a public health problem that is treatable with proper screening, education, and safety precautions. With that, we can restore peace and security, so communities have the chance to thrive.
The authors are candidates in the Doctor of Nursing Practice-Family Nurse Practitioner program at Sacred Heart University’s College of Nursing.
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