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Five Ways to Lessen the Likelihood of Mass Shootings

How can we reduce the chances of another shooting?
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A sign for the Orlando victims is carried at Philadelphia’s Gay Pride Parade.

A sign for the Orlando victims is carried at Philadelphia’s Gay Pride Parade.

It sometimes feel like we’ve grown numb to the reality of gun violence in America. Then something like Saturday night’s tragedy in an Orlando nightclub occurs, and we’re again shattered, left wondering how this can occur and whether it can be prevented.

While it’s easy to despair that political polarization—and the power of the gun lobby—has made sensible reform impossible, it’s more helpful to point out specific steps that could be taken. In a February issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association,Lawrence Gostin of Georgetown University Law Center came up with the following list:

Require Universal Background Checks

“The sale of a firearm, wherever it takes place, should be predicated on responsible ownership — no record of violence, suspicion of radicalism, or mental illness posing a danger to self or others,” Gostin writes. “The only way health authorities can know a customer’s suitability to buy a weapon is to conduct a thorough background check.”

“Federal law significantly restricts law enforcement investigation of gun crimes and prosecution of unscrupulous dealers,” he notes. “This includes prohibiting the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives from releasing firearm trace data to cities and states, requiring the Federal Bureau of Investigation to destroy all approved gun purchaser records within 24 hours, and prohibiting the ATF from requiring gun dealers to submit their inventories to law enforcement. What conservative ideology would tie the hands of law enforcement?”

Ban Assault Weapons and Armor-Piercing Bullets

“Even if law-abiding citizens have a right to possess handguns and rifles, high-powered weaponry is beyond any reasonable interpretation of Second Amendment rights,” he writes.

Regulate Firearm Safety Design

“The NRA opposes safety standards, just as carmakers opposed seat belts and airbags,” Gostin writes. “There are numerous technologies that if widely applied, even mandated, would prevent unauthorized firearm use and accidental discharge — saving lives from suicides, unintentional shootings, and criminals obtaining another person’s weapon.”

Dedicate Federal Funding for Firearms Research

Gostin writes that, in 1996, Congress added damaging language into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s appropriation bill: “[N]one of the funds made available for injury prevention and control … may be used to advocate or promote gun control,” he notes. “Political repercussions resulted in a self-imposed ban on firearms research. Even after President Obama ordered the CDC to study firearm violence, the agency declined, stating it needed dedicated funding.”

Keep these eminently sensible proposals in mind when your grief turns to anger, and you feel an urge to lobby for specific actions that could make a difference.