Guns and violence get airing at Linfield
For some, such as representatives of the gun-control group Ceasefire Oregon, discomfort may be sparked by pro-gun activists who bring their weapons to the debate. For others, whose chief focus is on the legal and constitutional ramifications, it may stem from frustration with extremism on both sides of the issue.
For members of the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill, it’s the assertion once more of linkage between gun violence and mental illness, said Oregon director Chris Bouneff. Many people think the two are entwined, he said, but they.
Bouneff said mentally ill people are 10 times more likely than the general population to become victims, but only very slightly more likely to commit violence. Yet when a mass shooting happens, he said, “People want to lay blame,” and mental illness is a frequent target.
Although it’s an uncomfortable subject, Bouneff said, he and other mental health care advocates must take advantage of the period following a mass shooting.
“Suddenly, everyone cares about mental health and wants to fund us,” he said. That provides an opportunity to secure money for early intervention, access to services and quality treatment.
“If we capitalize on this moment, we’ll help a lot of people,” Bouneff said. “We’ll prevent a lot of tragedies and save a lot of money in the long run.”
Bouneff was one of three panelists at the Tuesday discussion, which ran more than an hour, as audience members asked questions and mentioned additional points. Also speaking were former Republican Senate nominee James Huffman, dean emeritus of Lewis & Clark Law School, and Penny Okamoto, volunteer executive director of Ceasefire Oregon.
Huffman the Second Amendment and the way it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court. The court has upheld the “right to bear arms” as a personal right and the amendment is not going to repealed, he said.
However, he said, the Supreme Court also has ruled the Second Amendment is subject to restrictions and controls, as are all rights. So we can pass laws to control where guns can be taken and what kind of weapons are allowed.
He said he often hears gun rights advocates use the argument “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” While they have a point, he said, guns definitely do make killing easier and more impersonal.
Huffman said we should eliminate extremist rhetoric if we want to reach the optimum outcome: maximum and equal liberty, with freedom for people who want to have guns, tempered by measures protecting society.
“I want to see the political debate put the barricades down a little and move toward the center ... accept that there is a right to bear arms, and also that a lot of people are getting injured and killed,” he said.
Okamoto said Ceasefire Oregon also would welcome real debate about gun control. The organization does not want to eliminate the Second Amendment, she said, but it does want to end mass shootings and the many deaths that occur because of easy access to guns.
In Oregon, there are about 400 gun-related deaths year. Eighty percent of those are suicides, she said.
Okamoto blamed multiple sources, including the media, for fueling America’s gun culture. But one of the biggest aspects, she said, is financial.
“Manufacturers make a lot of money from selling guns,” she said. And they’ve been successful, as America’s 308 million residents own 300 million guns.
The number of guns already in circulation is a problem, Okamoto and her fellow panelists agreed. But she and others in Ceasefire will keep working on keeping them from being used to hurt people, she said.
They are encouraging legislation that would require universal background checks, child access prevention, oversize magazine bans and other laws.
“People keep saying that no law will prevent someone from killing with a gun,” she said, admitting that it will always be too easy for criminals to obtain weapons illegally. “But that doesn’t mean we have to make it easier.”
About 50 people attended the discussion, sponsored by the Frederick Douglass Forum on Law, Rights and Justice.