Guest Opinion 

Remember Jan. 8th: What will it take to reduce gun violence in America?

Last year in America 462 people died from mass shootings and 1,314 were wounded. On average, one mass shooting (four or more killed or wounded) takes place each day. Eighty-eight people in America die daily from gun violence. Every year more than 30,000 die from gunshots, including homicides and suicides. What will it take to reduce gun violence in our country?

In December 2012, 20 children and six adults died in a mass shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Most Americans believed that this was the tipping point, which would result in congressional action to pass commonsense gun laws. Even with 91 percent of Americans in 2013 saying they favored expanded background checks, the U.S. Senate did not stop a filibuster on the bill to do so. What will it take for congress to have the political courage to act?

Friday, Jan. 8, 2016 is the fifth anniversary of the Tucson shooting tragedy. That morning 19 people were wounded and six of them died. They became one more statistic in the history of gun violence. But they also had names, families and wonderful life stories that will be remembered at events on Jan. 8 and 9. They were Gabe, John, Christina, Dorothy, Phyllis and Dorwan, all of whom died, and Gabby, Pam, Suzi, Bill, Mavy, Jim, George, Mary, Ken D, Ken V, Eric, Randy and Ron, all of whom were wounded. We joined a club which none of us wanted to be a member ... people who were wounded or killed in a mass shooting.

Most of us didn't know each other before Jan. 8 but we have become friends and support one another like family. We have also come into contact with others nationwide, who have been affected by a mass shooting. Together we are advocates for sensible changes in our gun laws. We have been deeply disappointed by the lack of response from congress but we are not deterred in ouC goal to reduce gun violence in America. What will it take to get our elected officials to improve our gun laws?

The gun lobby has immense influence with Congress and has dug in even deeper in the wake of so many mass shootings. Since Congress has refused to act, the president has had to take steps through executive orders.

This week President Obama announced the new actions he will take to address this problem. I share his frustration at the lack of progress by Congress and support his decision to move forward without Congress. This is what it will take until we have a congress that listens to the American public on this issue.

His executive action to implement changes in the background check system make sense to 73 percent of likely voters in 2016, including a majority of Republican voters, according to a recent poll.

The president will expand background checks by requiring some unlicensed gun sellers to get a federal license. This will begin to eliminate the so-called gun show loophole. He will also increase penalties for "straw purchases," those made on behalf of another individual, who would not pass a background check. Additionally, tighter rules will be put in place for reporting gun theft.

It will take a lot more to reduce gun violence in America and we each have a responsibility to make this happen. As voters, we must ask those who want our support on Election Day, about their position on improving gun laws. If they dodge the question or say we have enough laws on the books, we should look for another candidate who is willing to stand up to the gun lobby.

Today we are rightly concerned about terrorists attacking Americans here at home. Congress should also be concerned enough to add a new group to those who are currently prohibited from purchasing a firearm. This would include people who are on the terrorist watch list. There is a lot of rhetoric in current political campaigns about stopping terrorist violence in America but almost no one is proposing action to prevent those who are under investigation for terrorist intentions from buying guns. What will it take for commonsense to enter this discussion?

Another solution to reducing gun violence lies in how we treat people who have been adjudicated a danger to themselves or others due to a serious mental illness. Many of the mass shooting perpetrators in recent years showed signs of significant mental health problems before they acted violently. Most of them were either undiagnosed or misdiagnosed and did not receive the treatment they needed. For at least two years prior to the Tucson shooting, the shooter was displaying symptoms of declining mental health. Unfortunately, he was not diagnosed or treated appropriately before the tragedy. I believe that, had he been properly diagnosed and received the right mental health services, the shooting could have been prevented. Less than 5 percent of people with a mental health issue will ever commit an act of violence. They are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. But we have the knowledge to intervene with that 5 percent. What will it take to address this dangerous gap in mental health services?

Over the past several years almost $3 billion has been cut from mental health services in our country. We can start by restoring those cuts. We can also do more to make law enforcement personnel, teachers and others aware of the symptoms of mental illness and what we can do to assist those who are living with a mental illness. Pima County has led the nation in providing an educational program called Mental Health First Aid, which has provided essential information to first responders, parents and educators about how mental illness manifests and where to get help. We should expand this program nationwide.

On Jan. 8 let us commit ourselves to action as we remember those who were killed and wounded. By our actions to reduce gun violence we will honor them and all who came to their aid that horrific day.

More by Former U.S. Rep. Ron Barber

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