By 1900, there had already been some three-dozen deaths by motor vehicles. This was at a time when the top speed of the Columbia, made by Hartford-based Pope Manufacturing, was 13 miles an hour. Cars got faster, and ubiquitous. Just a half century later, the number of motor vehicle deaths had reached epidemic proportions, 53,000 and rising. All along, safety features were being added, from turn signals in the ‘20s to padded dashboards in the ‘40s.
After the horrible Charleston church slaughter last month, the public response from the National Rifle Association mostly came from long-time board member Charles L. Cotton. The nine African Americans were shot and killed after they welcomed a killer into their Bible study because, said Cotton, their church pastor, South Carolina Sen. Clementa Pinckney, did not allow guns at his church. Earlier, Pinckney, who was among the victims, had voted against a concealed carry law in his state. “Eight of his church members, who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church, are dead,” said Cotton in an online forum. “Innocent people died because of his political position on the issue.”
Since Newtown, the country has witnessed at least seven mass shootings. The most recent was in Chicago, where suspects used a military-type rifle and a gun, injuring 13 people in a park, including a 3-year old boy, who was shot in the head. Earlier that same week, a shooter killed 12 people at the Navy Yard in Washington. Ironically, that same day Newtown family members and other gun legislation advocates were in the nation’s capital for a long-planned trip to lobby for tighter laws. After each shooting, there’s a sense of despair that these horrible events will just keep happening.
Taxpayers across the country are subsidizing the manufacturers of assault rifles used in multiple mass killings, including the massacre of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown last month. A Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting examination of tax records shows that five companies that make semi-automatic rifles have received more than $19 million in tax breaks, most within with the past five years. “I feel horrified at the power of the gun industry over our political system, that it could exert such influence,” said Newtown resident Barbara Richardson, who lives between the homes of one of the 6-year-old victims and the shooter. Saying she respects hunters who are ethical and good neighbors, she “absolutely [does] not” support taxpayer subsidies to help manufacture assault rifles: “They’re weapons of mass destruction.”
Any new jobs due to tax subsidies are “not worth it,” said Richardson, a nurse whose first patient ever was a 19-year-old accidentally shot by his 13-year-old brother with their father’s gun. The states providing the subsidies since 2003: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Oklahoma.
After the Newtown school shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead, President Obama said, “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.’’
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, agreed, writing a letter to the President urging that the nation take a public health approach to reduce gun violence. “For too long,” Dr. Benjamin wrote, “we as a nation have failed to take on this devastating problem in our communities, and we can wait no longer.”
This is not simply a matter of semantics. Labeling something a public health issue is a game-changer. It brings together researchers and policy-makers across all sectors.