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Valley Perspective

It's Time to Reduce Injury and Death From the Use of Guns

Measure to enact safety licensing would go far toward keeping arms away from criminals, as well as reducing the number of suicides and accidental shootings.

February 25, 2001|JACK SCOTT | State Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altadena) represents Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena

Americans are ingenious and intelligent. When we use our will and focus our energy, we get the job done, no matter how great the task.

For example, look at the results of our direct action on these public health problems: 80% reduction in children's deaths because we require safety caps on medicine bottles; 97% reduction in polio and measles because we vaccinate against these diseases; 50% reduction in automobile injuries and fatalities in the last 40 years because we use seat belts, engineer cars for greater safety and crack down on drunk drivers.

Forceful actions clearly lessen injuries and fatalities. And it is time for forceful action to reduce injuries and deaths from yet another public health problem, the plague of injury and death from the use of guns.

Consider these facts: Our death rate by gunfire is the highest of any industrialized nation, 13 times greater than in Western Europe. Last year, more than 30,000 Americans died as a result of gunfire. Firearms are the leading cause of death for Americans younger than 24. Every day, 88 Americans die as a result of gunfire. And thousands of others are injured from gunfire, forcing them to spend the rest of their lives dealing with the resulting disabilities.

So what can we do? We have already taken some common-sense steps. Next year, every gun sold in California will be equipped with a trigger lock. We have also abolished the sale of assault weapons. Yet much more needs to be done if we are to effectively address gun violence as a public health issue.

That is why I have introduced SB 52 to enact handgun safety licensing in California. If enacted, the bill would go far toward keeping handguns away from criminals, reducing firearm suicides and decreasing accidental shootings.

The rationale behind SB 52 is simple: New handgun buyers must receive proper safety training before they can purchase a weapon. The concept is so rooted in common sense that many Californians are shocked to discover that our state has no requirements for licensing handgun owners.

The bill would require purchasers of new handguns to complete a basic safety course, pass basic written and safe-use demonstration tests, and have a criminal background check, including a thumbprint. It would help ensure that only law-abiding citizens could buy handguns.

In addition, it addresses the alarming rates of firearm suicide and murder arising from domestic disputes in our state. Requiring a waiting period to complete safety training makes it all but impossible for troubled people to rush out and buy handguns to use against themselves or others in a moment of despair or anger.

SB 52 also addresses the high rate of youth suicide which recent studies show is often impulsive and fueled by easy access to guns. Better training would teach handgun owners how to safely store their handguns away from young people.

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Californians know what to do. Fully 69% of Californians support handgun licensing, which mirrors the 66% of Americans who support licensing. Licensing is the intelligent approach.

In the coming months, you can be sure that the gun lobby will mount a massive campaign against handgun licensing. They will try to convince Californians that gun violence is just an inner-city crime problem, hoping that residents will turn a blind eye to the other forms of gun violence that directly or indirectly affect each of us at some point in our lives.

Saving lives and preventing injury is too important to be deterred by the hysterical cries of the gun lobby. Therefore, I will continue my fight because it will save lives.

My own son, Adam, lost his life in 1993 because another person carelessly handled a gun. I cannot bring him back to life but I can help see that other lives are saved. I will continue my fight despite the rancorous, and frequently misleading, outcry by the National Rifle Assn.

It is my belief that Californians will join me in this call for a common-sense solution to reduce injuries and deaths from guns. Too many of our citizens suffer each year from this plague. The time is right to enact handgun licensing. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.

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