An Important Step Forward Against Gun Violence.

Far be it from me to suggest that anyone out there besides myself has a plan to end gun violence, but there is a group headed by a physician in California, which has been trying to help America rid itself of this scourge, and the purpose of his column is to give that group some publicity and support.

The group, Americans Against Gun Violence, was founded in 2016 and is headed by its founder, a retired emergency physician, Bill Durston, who is a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War. He was cited for ‘courage under fire,’ so I think he knows a little bit about guns.

The group has just announced a rather unique approach to dealing with gun violence, which is an essay contest for high school students in which the top twelve essays submitted before the April 16 deadline will receive cash awards ranging from $3,000 down to $500, for a total of $15,000 cash.

This is the 5th year that the contest is being held, and this year the contestants need to submit an essay of 500 words or less describing their thoughts about a statement made by Chief Justice Warren Burger in 1991, when he referred to the 2nd Amendment as a ‘fraud.’

Burger’s statement, you should know, was made seventeen years before the Supreme Court radically revised its stance on the 2nd Amendment in the Heller case that was decided in 2008. If anything, Burger’s concern about how the 2nd Amendment represented the handiwork of ‘special interest groups’ would have been much more vigorous at that latter date.

Be that as it may, the bottom line is that what Bill Durston’s group is doing by sponsoring an essay contest about guns for high school students represents what I think is the single, most important approach to reducing gun violence that I have seen.

I’m not talking about whether we should try to junk the 2nd Amendment, which happens to be a fundamental goal that Americans Against Gun Violence would like to achieve. I’m talking about something much more important, which is the necessity to get high school students all over the country to think about how and why we continue to endure a daily pandemic of gun injuries which seemingly has no end.

From 2015 through 2019 (the last year for which we have data), there were just short of 100,000 Americans who were murdered, of whom 70,000 were murdered by someone using a gun. Thanks to the research of Al Lizotte and others, most of the shooters of those 70,000 victims first got interested in guns at the beginning of their high school years. Get it?

The problem with all the well-meaning efforts to regulate gun violence by passing laws that require law-abiding gun owners to be even more law-abiding with their guns (take a look at the new laws just enacted in San Jose) is that most of the 100,000+ homicides and aggravated assaults involving guns are committed by young men who have absolutely no interest in behaving in a law-abiding way at all.

Most of the perpetrators of gun violence also don’t finish high school. But they usually drop out at the end of the 10th grade. Which means that the only time that these kids can be warned about the dangers and risks of guns is when they start high school, which is also the time when they start playing around with guns.

If gun violence is a public health issue, and every gun-control group says that it is, then we must come up with a pro-active approach to the problem because this is what public health is all about.

The essay contest suggests that students discuss their submission with ‘teachers, parents, friends and other mentors’ and that they be high school students ‘in good standing’ in order to receive a cash award. Maybe next year the contest would require essay writers to show the work to a teacher because that’s how ideas about guns and gun risks can be spread.

And by the way, you can also go to the Membership page of Americans Against Gun Violence and send them a few bucks. And don’t give me any nonsense about how ‘broke’ you are thanks to Covid-19, okay?

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