Gun Laws and Public Health

A speaker at the gun law symposium
Linda Degutis, former director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, addresses the audience at the symposium on gun laws and public health, held March 1, 2014.
March 6, 2014 - Heated arguments about gun violence and how best to prevent it have appeared in the news media, particularly since the Sandy Hook School shooting in December 2012 that took the lives of 26 children and adults. Quinnipiac University's School of Law and the Quinnipiac Health Law Journal staff organized a symposium in March 2014 to bring people on both sides of this contentious issue to talk about it in-person.

Professionals in several fields, including medicine, mental health and law, shed light on the causes and repercussions of gun violence and the laws that affect gun owners at the symposium, "Gun Laws, Public Health, and the Prevalence of Gun Violence: A Critical Look at an Important Balance" on the North Haven Campus.

By the end of the symposium, several ideas had already begun to surface from both panelists and attendees about how best to minimize gun violence, such as using new technology that prevents a gun from being fired unless it is by the owner, requiring mandatory anger management training in the schools to identify young people who need help, and increasing education and job opportunities in areas where gun violence is prevalent.

"The exchange of ideas was riveting, meaningful, and respectful, and this kind of dialogue is needed in Connecticut," said Kelly McKeon, editor-in-chief of the Quinnipiac Health Law Journal. "It dealt with a polarizing but critically important topic in a way that brought people together, and the Quinnipiac Health Law Journal is very proud of this accomplishment."

Dorothy Stubbe, program director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center, and Kathy Flaherty, senior staff attorney at Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut, discussed the effects of gun violence on mental health. Joseph Hogan, legal research and writing professor at the School of Law, gave an overview of the history of gun laws in the U.S., which originated as part of the Internal Revenue Tax code.

Panelists discussed the state's new gun law, an "Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety," which requires owners of military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines to register them with the State Police. An audience member questioned if reducing the number of bullets in a clip would make a difference. Ron Pinciaro, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence, explained that with fewer bullets in a magazine, the shooter would have had to reload more often, giving potential victims a chance to escape.
 
Kenneth R. Slater, Jr., partner at Halloran & Sage LLP and local counsel to the National Rifle Association, criticized the characteristics that are used to define assault weapons, such as thumbhole stocks or pistol grips. He argued that these features are used by lawful gun owners for hunting and home protection.

"I have three children. I understand how important it is to protect our children, I believe in my heart, not as an advocate for the NRA, that the legislation that was just adopted would have done nothing to help stop that terrible tragedy," he said.

Amanda Durante, epidemiologist for the City of New Haven Health Department, said the loss of human potential from gun violence is similar to that of cancer. Using data from several agencies, she said the New Haven neighborhoods most affected by gun violence typically had low employment opportunities, low educational attainment and high poverty, as well as a high number of people who were involved in the criminal justice system. She described efforts to boost education and employment training as a way to prevent future violence.

Linda Degutis, former director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, emphasized the need for more research in gun violence prevention. Hearing the stories of the victims of gun violence and putting a face to the statistics--such as the six-month old child shot through the eye with a bullet meant for someone else--will help change people's attitudes about guns. "Stories are transformative," she said.

"Everyday in my work I took care of people who were shot," Degutis said. "Some of the died, some of them survived. All of them, their families and their communities were changed forever."