Five months after the Sandy Hook shooting, it’s not clear if
Congress will take concrete steps to address gun violence.
The school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, once again highlighted the need to address longstanding concerns associated with gun violence and access to mental-health services. This horrific event was a tipping point and serves as a call to action. A coalition of the nation’s nursing organizations has called upon political and community leaders across the country to address ongoing societal needs to help curb the endless cycle of senseless violence.
Our country has witnessed unspeakable acts of mass shootings. The common thread in each of these tragedies has been the lethal combination of easy access to guns and inadequate access to mental-health services.
Following the tragedy in Newtown, ANA’s call to action was endorsed by a diverse coalition of almost 50 ANA constituent and state nurses associations and national and other nursing organizations. The call to action was shared with the White House and congressional, state, and city leaders. (To read the call to action, go to www.nursingworld.org/Federal-Issues/Reducing-Gun-Violence.pdf.)
After the Connecticut shootings, the White House created a task force led by Vice President Joe Biden, who reached out to many groups (including ANA) to formulate a plan to address this complex issue. For those who may not be aware, ANA has established policy in this area. In the 1990s, ANA’s House of Delegates approved position statements on the topic, including “Curbing the Public Health Epidemic of Handgun Violence in the U.S.,” “Publicize Resources to Address Gun Violence By and Against Children,” and “Gun Control and Background Checks.”
In addition, ANA’s past legislative and regulatory documents related to gun violence and mental-health services include statements that indicate ANA supports coverage of inpatient and outpatient mental-health services as a standard benefit and parity for mental-health and physical services, as well as efforts that address mental-health outcome research and service evaluation.
ANA has been following various legislative proposals recently introduced in Congress. These include the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 (H.R. 452/S. 179) sponsored by Representatives Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Patrick Meehan (R-PA), and Scott Rigell (R-VA) and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand
(D-NY) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). The bill would make it a felony to buy a gun with the intent to sell it to someone who is not able to purchase a firearm legally. Although the bill may not address many of the concerns raised in the wake of the recent school shootings, it does focus on a problem that has long concerned law enforcement.
The proposed Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 (S.150), led by sponsor Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held hearings and approved the bill by a vote of 10-8 along party lines. The legislation bans the sale, transfer, manufacturing, and importation of all semiautomatic rifles that can accept a detachable magazine and have at least one military feature (types further identified in the bill), as well as all semiautomatic rifles and handguns that have a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
Despite pockets of agreement on a few issues and a growing public sentiment that gun violence should be addressed, it is uncertain whether this is a viable legislative issue in the 113th Congress. Time will tell if we are at another fork in the road that leads to all talk or real action. As a nurse, if you believe this issue should be addressed, now is the time to contact your senators and representatives to let them know your position.
Rose Gonzalez is the director and Jerome Mayer is the assistant director of government affairs at ANA. Debbie Dawson Hatmaker is the chief
professional practice officer at ANA.