Fight gun violence with economics, speaker urges


Facts and figures

Between 11,000 and 12,000 people in the U.S. die annually from gun violence.

An additional 70,000 are shot but survive.

Roughly half of gun homicides each year occur in inner cities.

About 31,000 Americans are affected every year by such violence.

Each year, 3,000 young people under age 19 use a gun to commit suicide.

Source: Elliot N. Fineman, president of the National Gun Victims Action Council

By Sean Barron


Stronger and more consistent laws are needed to reduce gun violence in the U.S., but the problem also must be attacked from an economic standpoint, a marketing consultant contends.

People were shocked and appalled by shooting rampages at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., in 1999 and 2007, respectively. Nevertheless, neither tragedy led to tougher federal gun laws, Elliot N. Fineman said during his presentation Tuesday at the Main Branch of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, 305 Wick Ave.

Fineman, president and chief executive officer of the National Gun Victims Action Council, spoke to about 50 people on providing economic leverage leading to tighter state and national gun laws.

ACTION sponsored the free 90-minute presentation, “An Economic Strategy to Reduce Gun Homicide and Violence in Our Community Now.”

The Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods is a faith-based organization that concentrates on social issues such as education, crime prevention and immigration.

In December 2006, Fineman’s 44-year-old son, Michael, was shot to death at a San Diego restaurant by a paranoid schizophrenic who had legally obtained his firearm.

Fineman, of Chicago, pointed to budgetary and manpower disparities between the National Rifle Association and the James Brady campaign, which oppose and support, respectively, most gun regulations. The NRA has a $250 million annual budget and 600 employees; by contrast, the Brady campaign’s yearly budget is $7 million, with only 23 employees, he noted.

“That’s why we have the [lax] laws we have,” Fineman said, adding that he doubts the Jan. 8 shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz., will result in better laws largely because of the NRA’s economic and legislative clout.

Jared L. Loughner, 22, is accused of using a Glock 9 mm semiautomatic pistol to kill six people and injure 13, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, during a meet-and-greet gathering at a supermarket.

Fineman said his organization plans to boycott large corporations, including Starbucks and Nike, unless they change their stance on gun violence.

Starbucks, which allows people to openly carry firearms in its stores, must ban the practice and commit $10 million each year to getting sane gun laws passed, he explained, adding that Starbucks made $550 million in profits in 2009.

Much of Nike’s earnings have come from residents of inner cities, where a disproportionate amount of gun violence occurs. Yet the shoe and apparel giant has remained largely silent, he contended.

Fineman said many myths have been proffered by the gun industry, such as the notion that a gun is vital for self-defense.

“The idea of self-protection is absurd and can’t work,” he said, explaining that most robberies and other gun crimes rely heavily on surprise.

Also part of the program was Lori A. O’Neill, NGAC’s vice chairwoman who addressed firearms trafficking.

O‘Neill, of Bainbridge in Geauga County, said most gun crimes are committed by those who have no legal right to own a firearm. In addition, trafficking “is a very deliberate and profitable enterprise in this country,” she added.

O’Neill and Fineman quickly pointed out that they support the rights of law-abiding people to have guns.

“We want regulations. We don’t want to take anyone’s rights away,” Fineman said.

The vast majority of firearms dealers are honest, but a few deliberately allow guns to get into the wrong hands by selling to “straw buyers,” people with no criminal record who buy guns for those who are not allowed to have them, O’Neill noted.

Many guns shows contribute to weapons ending up in criminals’ hands because private transactions are not regulated. A key to closing that loophole is to require federal background checks for all gun purchases, she continued, adding that such a move will not impact law-abiding citizens.

A potential gun owner, like a motor-vehicle operator, should be required to pass a test, receive special training, become licensed and carry liability insurance, O’Neill explained.

Increased awareness, greater legislative action and better laws can lead to reductions in gun homicides and violence, she said, in much the same way that the formula by Mothers Against Drunk Driving resulted in a decrease in drunken-driving fatalities over the past 30 years.

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