Personal Safety

Seidman: How many mass shootings does it take to hit a 'tipping point'? – News – Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Sarasota, FL

Seidman: How many mass shootings does it take to hit a ‘tipping point’? – News – Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Sarasota, FL

Seidman: How many mass shootings does it take to hit a ‘tipping point’? Sunday Nov 4, 2018 at 6:00 AM Nov 4, 2018 at 6:48 AM Because of my last name, many people have automatically assumed I am Jewish. By heritage, that’s true, but by religious training and faith, it is not. My paternal grandfather, an orthodox Jew, came to America as a young boy from the Ukraine and eventually settled in Michigan, where he met the first generation American born to immigrants from Lithuania who would become his bride. My grandmother’s father was blue-eyed and blonde; she maintained throughout her life that he was not Jewish. At any rate, she’d seen enough anti-Semitic sentiment in America to know she didn’t want her children to experience it. She made my grandfather promise their children would not be raised as Jews and that the family name would be pronounced “Seed-man,” not “Side-man,” in the belief it might attract less unfavorable attention. Thus my father was raised with no awareness of his father’s religious history and his own children became still another generation removed from the family faith. So, although I was deeply devastated at the news of the recent mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, I know it didn’t feel as personally threatening to me as it did to my Jewish friends. Still, when I contacted one to see if I could attend a service with her in support of #ShowUpForShabbat, despite her long history of Jewish activism, she said she wasn’t planning to go. The tragedy had only exacerbated the angst, anger and depression she’s been feeling for a long time over the country’s divisiveness and volatility. “Frankly, I was not surprised, maybe I was expecting something like this,” she said of the most recent tragedy. “But even writing this message to you makes me realize how deep my fear is. And I fear it is only going to get worse.” She’s not alone. I’ve talked to many people, of many different stripes, who feel like the country is sitting on a powder keg. And according to Thomas Gabor, a noted criminologist and gun expert, that’s quite literally true. As 2,000 local residents gathered for a vigil for the synagogue victims at the Sarasota Fairgrounds, the Canadian native now living in Palm Beach County was preaching to a much smaller choir at the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center about the key factor fueling America’s gun violence. “With regard to gun ownership levels and gun mortality, the U.S. is an outlier relative to all other high-income, advanced countries,” said Gabor, who spent four years and interviewed 1,000 sources to gather statistics for his book, “Confronting Gun Violence in America.” “We’re really off the charts.” With close to 400 million privately held firearms — that’s 123 guns for every 100 people — the U.S. owns nearly half the global arsenal, though it makes up just 5 percent of the world’s population. And while it’s long been the National Rifle Association’s contention that more guns make us safer, Gabor’s investigations — personally paid for since national funding for firearms research dried up long ago — show an alternate correlation. For example, in 2014, the U.S. reported 80 times the number of firearm homicides (10,945) as the nearest world runner-up, Canada (131). In Alaska, where 60 percent of residents own guns, the death rate is 19.2 per 100,000, while in Hawaii, where only 9.7 percent own a firearm, it’s 2.6 per 100,000. And if you’re an American, your odds of dying from a gun are 1 in 29,000; in Japan, it’s 1 in 10 million. In those numbers, Gabor said, lays the case for turning the national conversation away from gun rights and toward public safety. Because the more mass shootings that occur in a variety of venues, the more no one — Jew or journalist, black or white, senior citizen or schoolchild — feels safe anywhere. Though gun reform groups like the Brady Campaign, Moms Demand Action and Sandy Hook Promise have gained steam right along with the increase in mass shootings, their advocacy has been fragmented, Gabor said. Some have focused on closing the private gun sales loophole, others on strengthening a flawed background check system. Still others promote firearm buy-back and safe storage programs, or work to repeal laws facilitating the use of legal force, like Florida’s Stand Your Ground, or protect the gun industry from liability. “One of my frustrations is that, whereas the gun-rights activists are fairly unified behind the NRA, there is a splintering of activism on our side,” Gabor said. “What we need now is more of a unified approach, so that after a horrific incident, we can get our message together.” Gabor’s solution, based on what has worked in other countries, is the creation of a national firearms licensing system — something like a driver’s license — paid for by license fees. Applicants would have to provide at least three personal references, undergo standardized training from law enforcement (rather than at a gun store), submit to a criminal, military, and mental health review and wait 10-15 business days before a gun purchase. I told him I could hear people laughing. “It’s a tall order and I acknowledge that,” he said. “I know the history of this country and the role of the gun lobby, but I don’t believe the world is static. I think we’re getting to the point where people are saying, ‘Enough!’” What gives him hope? Gabor points to Australia which, in 1996, had its largest mass shooting, with 35 deaths. It was a country with a Federalist system, a strong gun culture and a conservative government — “A lot of similarities to the U.S. today.” Nevertheless, public outcry spurred the outlawing of certain weapons, which the government bought them back at fair market price, reducing the national inventory of firearms by almost a third. “When there is the will, it can be done,” he insisted. “As each incident occurs, more and more people are touched. We’re getting to a tipping point, I think, where we have a critical mass of people who are completely fed up. What we need is a little more outrage.” Contact columnist Carrie Seidman at 941-361-4834 or carrie.seidman@heraldtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter @CarrieSeidman and Facebook at facebook.com/cseidman. Never miss a story
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