Don’t blame the weapon, blame the individual

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Leah GB

Leah Gunn Barrett is the current executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (NYAGV), which since 1993 has been one of the most active non-profit organizations working to preserve and pass strong gun laws at the local and national level.

Barrett lived in London for 14 years, when her then 48-year-old brother Greg was shot at his business in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1997. Three days later, Greg died, leaving his wife and his two children alone.

Barrett moved back to America three years later after her brother’s death; she has been an active advocate for gun control ever since. She joined CeaseFire Maryland, a statewide gun violence prevention group, where she led efforts to ban assault rifles in Maryland. She has also worked with John Hopkins Research Center and other groups, including the Brady Campaign for the Prevention of Gun Violence.

Barrett moved to New York and worked as an adjunct lecturer at Columbia University until 2013, the year in which she took charge of NYAGV. The organization currently has members in 27 counties throughout New York State and partners with community groups, individual citizens, local officials and law enforcement across New York to end gun violence. NYAGV accomplished passing the New York Safe Act in 2013 and it is working now to pass  Nicholas’ Law for safe storage in New York, named after 12-year-old Nicholas Naumkin who was accidentally shot by his friend.

In a short interview, Barrett discusses many of the issues regarding the culture of firearms in the United States:

“The real problem is the public health crisis in America.”

For Barrett, the mass shootings get the headlines, but the real problem behind these killings revealed a public health crisis.“People are not born criminals,” Barrett said.

But they become criminals because of different factors. And that is why gun violence should be addressed and treated from a public health perspective, Barrett pointed out.

“What test could you pass if you’re blind?”

To Barrett, a blind man is not competent to have a gun permit, just as he would not be capable of obtaining a driver’s license.

In October 2000, Carey McWilliams,a blind man, got a gun permit in Fargo, North Dakota. He went to the sheriff’s office holding a harness to a guide dog but that wasn’t an impediment. He passed the shooting tests. It wasn’t instinct what helped McWilliams pass the test. It was training. When he was around sixteen years old, he enrolled in a pistol marksmanship course run by the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps.

“He would not get a gun permit in New York State”, Barrett said.

Barrett went on and argued that it all depends on how visually impaired you are. But her ultimate response was a clear no.

The National Rifle Association advocates for blind people obtaining gun permits under the Second Amendment. Barrett qualified the idea as “ludicrous.”

“College-aged students do not have developed brains.  The brain is not done developing until you’re 25.” College campuses are one of the safest places in America if guns are not allowed, Barrett said.

However, there are currently nine states –Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah, Texas and Wisconsin– that have provisions that allow carrying concealed weapons on campuses.

There is alcohol, academic pressure, depression and suicides on college campuses. “Bringing guns into that mix, it’s a really stupid idea”, Gun Barrett said.

Rape is another issue on college campuses. One in five women are sexually assaulted in college, according to a White House report on sexual assault in 2014. Eighty percent of rape and sexual assault victimizations of students go unreported to police, according to a 2014 special report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Florida State Representative Rehwinkel Vasilinda wants to pass a law that would allow women to be armed on campus for self-defense. Vasilinda, in fact, was a victim of “attempted rape” and used her father’s gun to stop it.

Barrett, however, stated that women shouldn’t use guns for self-defense as most of the time the victim knows the offender and alcohol is involved.

“It’s not going to help her to have a gun,” Barrett said. “It’s stupid.”

“We have no problems with gun ownership per se.”

One can be a responsible gun owner, for instance, by locking up guns around children, Barrett said. She does believe that a gun owner can be a law-abiding citizen.

“What we have a problem with are gun laws that are too weak and allow guns to fall into the wrong hands,” Barrett said.

“There is still a lot we can do here in New York.”

NYAGV still has work to do. One of their goals is to pass a Safe Firearms storage law in order to protect children from unintentional shootings. The organization is also seeking to give law enforcement the right tools such as microstamping to solve gun crimes. Lastly, NYAGV plans to obtain a gun violence restraining order. This order would enable relatives to petition a judge to have guns removed from members of their families who are, for instance, mentally ill.

“People are dying every single day from guns,” Barrett said. “I know it’s preventable if every jurisdiction, every city, every state had sensible gun regulations to keep guns out of the wrong hands.”