Ignoring the insanity of gun violence

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"When will this insanity stop?"

That was the question asked over the weekend by the grieving father of a 20-year-old gunshot victim in Isla Vista.

The answer, tragically, is that it's not likely to end any time soon.

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FOR THE RECORD:

Gun violence: A column in the May 28 Section A about society's inaction on gun violence misspelled the last name of Shannon Watts, of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, as Watt.
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Lest we forget, a heavily armed man walked into a Connecticut elementary school 18 months ago and killed 20 first-graders and six adults. And the reaction from Congress in the wake of one of the deadliest mass murders in U.S. history? Proposals to ban assault weapons, limit the capacity of gun magazines and strengthen background checks on gun buyers never had a chance. Those and other reform proposals all fizzled in a moment of national shame.

Sensational gun violence — the latest in Isla Vista on Friday, where three victims were shot and three were stabbed — always gets us wringing our hands about gun control for a few days or maybe a few weeks, but that's about it. The focus is often on the mental health of the killers in those high-profile cases, and certainly there's room for vast improvement in identifying and treating illness and preventing violence.

But firearm violence is an everyday reality, and the truest expression of insanity is the argument that greater access to more guns can make anyone safer. No developed nation comes close to either the number of guns per capita in the U.S. or our rate of firearm deaths, and yet the NRA and its congressional stooges stay the course, money in their pockets and blood on their hands.

According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, an average of 32 Americans are killed every day and 140 are treated for gunshots in an emergency room. An average of eight children and teenagers are killed each day, and an additional 51 people take their own lives with a firearm.

The San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence notes that about 4,400 American military men and women died in the first seven years of the war in Iraq, which is the same number of gun-related deaths in the U.S. every seven weeks. In 2010, more than 75% of the firearms used in suicide or accidental killings of children and teenagers were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative or a friend.

A report last year by the Children's Defense Fund said the number of teenagers and children killed by guns in 2010 was five times the number of U.S. servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan that year. And U.S. military and police officers have about 4 million guns total, while U.S. citizens have about 310 million. Annual bullet production, meanwhile, is 31 times the number of U.S. residents.

These statistics should stagger us all, but either they have lost their shock value or we have lost our civility. In response to the carnage, and in the vacuum of federal leadership, some states have adopted tougher gun control measures, and California is still a national leader in that regard. But other states have either done nothing at all or they have gone the other way, relaxing gun restrictions.

Last month, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed what critics called the "guns everywhere" bill. It allows permitted gun owners to take their weapons into some churches, bars, government buildings and school zones. Deal called it "a great day to reaffirm our liberties," and he was cheered.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives Georgia and 24 other states grades of F on its report card for responsible gun control laws. And it's worth noting that the states with the lowest gun control grades have the highest rates of gun death, while the states with the highest gun control grades have the lowest death rates.

Even California, which got an A-minus, has room for improvement in the opinion of the Law Center's Michael McLively.

"You or I could walk into a Big 5 and purchase as much ammo as we want, easier than buying a pack of cigarettes," McLively said.

The Law Center supports a bill by state Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) that would require the licensing of vendors and background checks for the buyers of ammunition. Another proposal that makes sense, temporarily blocking someone's right to buy or possess a gun while acutely ill, was addressed Tuesday in a Times op-ed piece by UC San Francisco professor Renee Binder.

It's not just gun control legislation that's needed, said Shannon Watt of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, but better collection of data and more research on the prevention and causes of gun violence.

"The Washington gun lobby has been able, through Congress, to cut funding for different organizations that would collect data on child deaths the same way we do on other causes of death," Watt said.

A bill to fund such research was introduced last week by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.). The NRA immediately took aim and fired, calling the proposal an "abuse of taxpayer funds for anti-gun political propaganda under the guise of research."

Watt and other advocates hope grass-roots lobbying can chip away at the NRA juggernaut and its congressional lackeys. Watt's group (momsdemandaction.org) has linked up with local officials, police and clergy to bring pressure on gun-friendly businesses and to distribute a voter pledge to support gun control candidates.

"Our family has a message for every parent out there: You don't think it'll happen to your child until it does," a shattered Richard Martinez said about the Friday night killing of his son Christopher in Isla Vista.

"Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris' right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, stop this madness, we don't have to live like this? Too many have died. We should say to ourselves — not one more."

steve.lopez@latimes.com

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