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President Obama made this statement at his presser following the Newtown shooting yesterday:

And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
Of course, he is absolutely right; we should take meaningful steps to solve the issue of gun violence.  The problem is, he is the only one who would be left unscathed by pursuing remedies "regardless of the politics."  He has no more re-elections to worry about, but I'm not so sure how our Dems in Congress might fare should the party pursue and pass laws restricting gun access/use/licensing, etc.

But what if there were a way to address the issue such that "regardless of the politics" posed a danger to no one?  I say there is:  we should be using this opening in the gun control debate to demand a stronger social safety net and prevention programs.  Because this is not about guns; it's about what drives people to embrace violence as a solution.  Violence is ultimately a function of despair; when people feel empowered and have hope, the less they resort to extreme measures. When people feel they have no voice and no control over their fate, desperation sets in.  Fewer people reaching that point means fewer Columbines, VA Techs (my alma mater; I worked in the building involved), and Newtowns.

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So where might "Regardless of the politics" lead?  Let's look at a hypothetical situation wherein Obama/Dems introduce and maybe even pass gun control legislation.  The GOP, NRA and who knows what other groups on the right would be aligned with a surprising number of left-leaning gun users in opposition.  It would make the health care reform debate look like a picnic.  I'd say the risk of some militia group going straight on over the edge and engaging in violence would be likely.  Look at how they react to the mere hint that somebody somewhere might one day take their guns away; can you imagine their response should someone actually do so?

On the other hand, contrast all of that with this hypothetical scenario:  Obama and our Dems in Congress instead make a full-throated demand for strengthened social programs.  Presenting such an approach as an alternative to stricter gun laws provides us with a very strong position for arguing our case.  Complaints about costs?  Well, enforcement of stricter gun laws costs money, too.  Except that putting money into social programs reaps benefits far beyond the question of gun violence; it solves several problems, including gun violence.

It's also true that taking such a tack would not rile up any of the crazies, except the garden variety crazy that is the modern-day GOP when it comes to taking care of people.  The NRA would likely at least stay quiet, since they'd have no obvious dog in the fight, and I'm sure even some of them would regard less poverty and more education as good things.  Even conservative groups like the Catholic Bishops who denounced the Ryan Budget support anti-poverty programs.  

Such proposals wouldn't meet any more resistance than they do now, basically.  Only, when presented as a solution to gun violence, it becomes really hard for anyone to argue against, especially if groups like the NRA aren't marshaling support and making full-court presses with their lobbying efforts.  It is one thing for the GOP to decry social programs because socialism, etc.  But the optics of opposing programs to reduce gun violence are just atrocious, and not even the GOP propaganda machine has enough lipstick for that pig.

We already know that support programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance provide the best GDP bang for the buck; money that is spent immediately ups the demand side of the equation, which ups supply, which provides jobs, yadda yadda.  We also know that the links between poverty and (gun) violence are well established:

Poverty is a substantial factor in gun deaths by metro, as it was in our previous state-level analysis. The percentage of a metro’s population below the poverty line is significantly associated with all three types of gun death — homicide (.45), suicide (.35), and the overall rate (.49).

... Economic advantage plays a substantial role in moderating death by gun, at the metro level as it did for states. More affluent metros have lower rates of all forms of gun death. That said, economic advantage — measured as per capita income — plays a bigger role in moderating the overall rate of gun death (-.55) and that for gun-related suicide (-.64) than for gun-related murders (-.32).

Education plays a similar role in moderating gun death, with more highly-educated metros having lower levels of all types of gun death. The share of adults that are college grads is negatively correlated with of gun death overall (-.57), suicides (-.52), and murders (-.46).

Gun death also varies by socio-economic class. Higher levels of knowledge-based, creative class work at the metro level is associated with lower levels of all three types of gun death — overall gun deaths (-. 55), gun-related suicides (-.53), and gun-related homicides (-.39). The same pattern holds for high-tech industry. A metro’s share of high-tech industry is negatively associated with overall gun deaths (-.49), gun-related suicides (-.53), and homicides (-.32). Conversely, metros with higher shares of blue-collar working class jobs experience higher rates of all three, with positive correlations to overall gun deaths (.52), suicides (.49), and murders (.37).

Yes, I know:  there are lies, damned lies, and statistics and if you torture the numbers enough, you can make them say anything.  But poverty is consistently identified as a driver of gun violence across the board, however mitigated by other factors it may be.  Also of interest is the information about education levels being related to gun violence, as is the data about type of jobs/industry available as a career choice.

What all of those seemingly disparate metrics have in common is their solution:  education is an antidote to gun violence in two ways.  It directly reduces gun violence itself, and it reduces poverty, which also lessens gun violence.  Properly funding education opens the door to whole new worlds for children and does nothing but benefit society.  Whatever it costs in dollars, it's worth it ten times over.

Lastly, there is the elephant in the room that is the state of our approach to mental wellness. Basically, we don't have one.  Health care focuses almost entirely on the physical; even if people are lucky enough to have counseling coverage on their insurance, there are usually limits, as if psychology were that simple and six sessions constituted a cure-all.  I know there are some who view focusing on mental health as a distraction, or worse, deliberate misdirection, from the gun debate.  But that is just not the case.  Mark Follman of Mother Jones took a look at this relationship and found that over half of the mass shootings they examined pointed to mental health of the gunman as a factor.

After another young man unleashed horror inside a Colorado movie theater this July, we set out to track mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years. We identified and analyzed 61 of them—24 in the last seven years alone.

...Acute paranoia, delusions, and depression were rampant among them, with at least 35 of the killers committing suicide on or near the scene. (Seven others died in police shootouts they had little hope of surviving, regarded by some experts as "suicide by cop.") And according to additional research we completed recently, at least 38 of them displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings.

Did you know that the majority of U.S. gun deaths are suicides?  In several of the more recent shooting incidents, it has come out that the perpetrators had established histories of unstable behavior, yet they were allowed to buy guns perfectly legally.  If we had adequate support available for people suffering depression, etc., we could better prevent such oversights.

Sadly, there are no easy solutions to be had, because the problem is extraordinarily complex.  But strengthening social programs as part of the solution not only mitigates gun violence, but also legitimizes liberal policies that value all Americans, not just the well-to-do ones.  Properly enforcing already existing gun laws and expanding the social safety net is an approach to addressing this issue that wouldn't incite immediate knee-jerk resistance.  And it could cement the New Deal vision of progressive values as a good thing in the American psyche for a good long while.  

Let us clamor for that and let the GOP twist in the wind as they thumb their noses at workable solutions to our gun problems.  I triple-dog dare them to speak out against effective social policy on this.  Who's with me?  


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Originally posted to Cedwyn on Sat Dec 15, 2012 at 10:01 AM PST.

Also republished by Income Inequality Kos, Progressive Policy Zone, and Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

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