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Harris-Perry guest: States with strong background check laws have fewer suicides

By Samantha Kimmey
Sunday, February 24, 2013 17:39 EDT
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On her Sunday show, MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry discussed the ongoing debate on how best to fight gun violence, noting that some favor more restrictions while others prefer more guns.

A number of states — including Arizona, California, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee — are currently considering proposals that would allow teachers to have guns in the classroom, and South Carolina has advanced a bill that would eliminate penalties for those carrying a concealed weapons in bars and restaurants.

Some claim that reducing access to guns reduces gun violence — and not just murder, but suicide as well.

“States that have universal background checks, or stronger background check laws, have half the suicides that states that don’t have those types of laws in place,” said Dina Dariotis, of New Yorkers Against Gun violence and former employee of New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Almost 40 percent fewer women are shot and killed by intimate partners in states that have better background check laws.”

A meta-review of gun data, conducted by David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, found that “in states with more guns, there were more suicides (because there were more firearm suicides), even after controlling for the percentage of the state’s population with serious mental illness, alcohol dependence or abuse, illicit substance dependence or abuse, and the percentage unemployed, living below the poverty level, and in urban areas,” according to the Minnesota Post. There was no relationship between guns and nonfirearm suicide rates.

But Harris-Perry countered that the Supreme Court has ruled the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to own guns.

Nick Dranias, Director of Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute, said there could be regulations such as background checks but that “we can’t go nilly-willy with just banning guns.”

NYU professor Kenji Yoshino said that two Supreme Court rulings in 2010 did solidify the individual right. However, in 2012 Scalia commented on 2008 Supreme Court ruling — which struck down Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban — and said that limits on the right were constitutional since there were limits on the right when the Constitution was written, reported the Huffington Post.

“The question is whether or not that well-regulated militia prefatory clause is restrictive or really descriptive. And I lost that one. The 2008 decision says it’s clearly descriptive, you know, and that it’s not meant to be a pre-condition on the right, the right of an individual,” Yoshino said.

But Harris-Perry said that the new push for teachers to have guns in the classroom reminded her of the Alabama professor who shot and killed three fellow professors. “We can’t assume that certain positions necessarily mean that you’re the good guy, right?” she asked.

Maya Wiley, founder and president of the Center for Social Inclusion, which advocates for policies to counter racial inequality, said she was deeply unsettled by the idea of sending her children to a school where teachers had guns. “The idea that our kids are going to be safer because there are a whole bunch of guns inside the school is just insane,” she said, adding that the more guns that are in any given situation, “the more likely those guns are going to be used,” questioning the “home defense” argument that many use.

Harvard’s Hemenway wrote that having a gun in the home was a risk factor for accidental death. He also wrote that in the case of violent burglaries — which account for just 7 percent of home burglaries — most involved a relative, friend or acquaintance.

Another problem, Harris-Perry said, is that it is difficult to measure the efficacy of current gun laws because so little government research is conducted on the matter — largely because of lobbying by the National Rifle Association, according to researchers.

Dranias said that author John Lott had conducted research showing that fewer gun control laws is correlated with less crime. Dariotis, however, said that the armed gun at Columbine High School in Colorado was unable to prevent the tragic school massacre.

Watch the video, via MSNBC, below.

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