If it survives the inevitable court challenges, it will mean more background checks, expanded registration and $500 million for mental health initiatives. President Obama believes these measures will keep firearms from criminals - and they should - but he also claims that it will reduce suicides. That is not so simple to believe. As is well-known, 60 percent of deaths due to firearms are suicides and the lack of gun ownership in Japan did not prevent any of those, they simply use rope.
But mental health initiatives, solving the underlying disease rather than trying to fix the symptom, is a good idea. If public awareness campaigns can reduce smoking, why not reduce gun suicides? Unlike smoking, where there is some time, suicide is all or nothing when it comes to a gun and public awareness that highlights the fact that 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides, rather than political theater about assault weapons and mass shootings, would lead more people to ask what they can do to prevent suicide before the fact rather than after. The obvious answer is to lock up guns, especially if there is someone mentally ill in the home.
There are other issues this would solve as well. Accidents involving children are always big news, because mainstream media like to focus on any tragedy they can. Dr. Scott Shapiro MD, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, says the suicide aspect, plus the accidents, make it a public health issue, and that seems like a responsible approach to take. Rifles account for 500 deaths a year, including accidents, so talking about assault weapons polarizes law-abiding people who generally agree that if they have to have a background check to buy a weapon, so should everyone. Murders committed as domestic violence? Gun owners want that person out of society just as much as any anti-gun advocate.
A decade ago, environmentalists were still criticizing hunters and musicians (such as guitar players) because their lifestyle includes things that urban intellectuals dislike, using nature rather than putting it on a shelf. Eventually they realized they were alienating natural allies and conceded that people who use the land for hunting and guitars love nature and want to keep it around a lot more than fundraisers working the phones for Natural Resources Defense Council do.
Gun control advocates need to adopt the same techniques and stop being anti-gun and become anti-criminal and pro-mental health. Simplistic 'you are with us or against us' ultimatums force gun owners under an umbrella they would likely not be under if the reasons for why we should have better enforcement were the focus of the debate, and not calling everything an assault weapon to score emotional points.