At UML Forum, Calls for Dialogue on Guns
By Hiroko Sato
LOWELL -- Craig Whitney knows gun violence kills about 33,000 people across the country every year.
What the former New York Times reporter, who recently wrote a book on the Second Amendment, also knows is that two-thirds of the cases are suicides and the rest mostly involved handguns. In fact, mass shootings in which semi-automatic rifles are used account for just 1 percent of these crimes, according to UMass Lowell criminal-justice professor Cathy Levey.
These statistics have Whitney, Levey and Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis convinced that stricter background checks on gun purchasers alone wouldn't be enough to prevent another tragedy from happening. They agree the country must have serious debates about how to reduce gun violence by setting aside political differences. Failure to do so isn't an option, Davis said.
"We would be viewed dimly through historical lenses," Davis told the audience gathered at UMass Lowell's Mahoney Hall for the Day Without Violence, an annual university forum that marks the anniversary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death.
Serving as the keynote speaker was Whitney, a Vietnam War veteran from Milford whose book, Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment, was recently published. Joining him on the panel were Levey, a psychologist who has worked in the Connecticut prison system for two decades, and Davis, who served as Lowell police superintendent of 12 years before taking the reins of the Boston police.
Whitney pointed out about 40 percent of gun purchases are private sales, in which background-check requirements do not matter. Whitney believes the Second Amendment was historically connected to civic duty of defending the country and does not guarantee one's absolute right to own firearms. He said it's time that both sides of the gun-control issue begin seeking some common ground -- a point on which Davis agrees.
"It requires honest conversations," Davis said about the issue of gun violence.
Davis said about 80 percent of all shootings in Boston happen in sections of Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan with a high concentration of lower-income families. Most homicides stem from gang turf wars, and the majority of those involved in such crimes are between ages 18 and 24.
Davis noted that large segments of society, namely those who live in relatively peaceful suburban towns, do not care enough about gun violence. That doesn't help push forward the national dialogue when conversations around the topic are so polarized, Davis said.
Levey said crimes stem from deep-seated social issues, such as poverty, and that focusing solely on mental health as the cause of gun violence is "simply misleading." But Davis said information about mental illnesses of prospective gun owners whom medical professionals deem dangerous can help. Police are forced to issue gun permits without knowing the applicants' mental problems, he said.
Davis said he would not vilify those who have strong opinions about gun controls.
"I would vilify people who would not allow us to have honest conversations" about the issue, he said.