Addressing the Root Causes of Violence

By Congressman Adrian Smith

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut has caused grief and reflection across the nation.  I join all Nebraskans and Americans in mourning the victims and in prayer for their families and friends.  Such an act of horror naturally invites debate over what can and should be done to protect children and prevent senseless acts of violence in the future.

President Obama and others were quick to insist on new gun restrictions.  We all share the goal of reduced violence, but I believe further gun control measures would not address the underlying causes of violence, and would only hurt law-abiding citizens.

History and evidence have shown gun bans and restrictions are not an effective way to reduce gun violence.  A 2004 study by the National Academy of Sciences found no link between gun controls and rates of violent crime.  Numerous school shootings and other mass murders occurred during the previous “assault weapons” ban, including the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado.  Since the expiration of the ban, gun murders have continued to decline in the U.S.

Outlawing certain weapons, accessories and ammunitions would not make them disappear; it would only limit the purchase of these items by those intending to use them for legal purposes.  The overwhelming majority of gun owners in America are responsible individuals concerned for the safety and wellbeing of their fellow citizens.  Laws on the books will not prevent criminals and those intending to do harm from obtaining arms by other means or from purchasing them on the black market.

Some would like to ban all guns, but the Second Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the right to “keep and bear arms.”  This right, which was recently affirmed by the Supreme Court, is important for personal protection as well as for sportsmen, hunters, and collectors.  Above all, the Second Amendment must be preserved because it is an essential safeguard to protect American freedom and democracy.

The debate about guns and gun control is understandable and well intentioned, but it is misguided.  Rather than continuing to focus on guns, we should be having a conversation about the underlying causes of violence, namely mental health.  A recent study by professor Stephen P. Segal at the University of California-Berkeley found states with greater mental health services had lower homicide rates than those with fewer mental health capabilities.

The vast majority of Americans suffering from mental illness will never commit a crime and are not a threat to our safety. However, to address the true causes of mass violence we must find ways to better identify and treat mental illness.  Passing legislation which does not address the underlying issues will not solve the problem, it could create new ones.

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