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UB professors talk gun control

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The Spectrum

UB professors have differing opinions on the highly debated federal gun control laws proposed by President Barack Obama. The main points of the federal proposal include expanded criminal background checks, the limiting of magazine sizes to 10 rounds, providing money for schools to develop emergency response plans and the financing of more mental health programs for young people.

New York was the first state to pass the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (NY SAFE) on Jan. 15, which approved a new set of state regulations, including the maximum rounds of ammunition changing from 10 to seven and universal background checks for all gun sales.

Professor Carole Embertonwants Americans to consider the "hidden history" of the Second Amendment.

Emberton, an assistant professor of history, specializes in the Second Amendment and the understanding of guns in the United States. The Second Amendment as it functioned when it was created during the late 1780s is a far cry from the way present-day Americans view it, she said.

In the late 18th century, Southern slaveholders were in favor of the amendment because they worried Congress would employ local militias to fight Native Americans and the British around the country and in Canada, Emberton said. Slaveholders needed the Second Amendment to keep local militias nearby, so they could prevent slave insurrections, according to Emberton.

"In those debates, it was not about an individual's right to have a firearm, but who was going to have control of these state militias," Emberton said. "Today, when people talk about the Second Amendment the clause about the militia [is ignored] and it's really about the right to bear arms."

With the rise in the production of guns after the Civil War explained, the gun industry used its wealth to donate to the political process, Emberton.

The gun industry is an obstacle when it comes to reformation. The political system is so dependent upon money, and the gun industry is incredibly wealthy, Emberton said. The gun rights lobby has thus far been effective in "shutting down any talk or entertaining of the possibility of any sort of combination of gun laws and better mental health treatment," she said.

Emberton believes this is one reason there hasn't been a conversation about how to prevent gun violence and protect citizens.

She said guns did not always have the "protected, exalted status" they have in present-day America. During the 19th century, there was a multitude of regulatory measures on types of firearms and ammunitions at the state and local level. In the early 19th century, there were no automatic weapons, so guns did not pose the same public safety risk, Emberton said.

As someone who works in an education environment that has increasingly seen mass shootings occur, Emberton hopes, as horrible as they have been, they will spark a breaking point in our political culture.

"We can now open things up for discussion and try to think about reasonable ways that we can try to deal with this problem because there is a problem," Emberton said.

Professor Steven Dubovskythinks President Obama's proposals are a superficial attempt at protecting citizens from unpredictable violence.

Dubovsky, chairman of the psychiatry department at UB's School of Medicine, agrees a national dialogue about the high murder rate can save lives.

Dubovsky is an expert on disaster response, extreme events and psychiatric illness, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He referred to Obama's proposals as "cotton candy" legislation.

"You can prepare it really quickly ... and it seems to taste really good at first and all you get from it is an upset stomach and some cavities," Dubovsky said. "It's a very poorly thought-out scheme, but it is obviously popular with his political supporters."

Dubovsky does not think Obama's proposals will help limit mass shootings. Tougher gun laws have no evidence of effectiveness, according to Dubovsky. One thing that will save lives, he believes, is looking at how people obtain a higher level of respect and appreciation for each other.

The problem, Dubovsky believes, is the violent culture in the United States modeled through national, regional and local leaders. He believes this sets a national tone of not valuing other people and their opinions. It attributes to individuals viewing others as "lower" than them. This is the attitude of many people within our society, according to Dubovsky.

"If you feel like you've been wronged, like this ex-cop running around shooting other policemen in California, or if you feel you've been mistreated or this woman on trail now for murdering her boyfriend and you feel that treated you badly, then it's OK to kill them because they are not as good as you are," Dubovsky said.

This is a widespread problem with the country's culture, Dubovsky believes, and if it is not addressed, violence will not stop and "banning a few rifles or magazines won't matter."

But the violence problem is not caused by mental illness in any way, shape or form, Dubovsky said.

"These are silly ideas that don't get at the core issue, which is, No. 1, you don't need a gun to kill people, and secondly, people who are committing these horrible acts, not out of mental illness, not because of access to guns, but because we as a society are doing multiple things to encourage it, not discourage it," Dubovsky said.

Dubovsky believes mental health patients like individuals with PTSD are unwarrantedly scapegoated as the cause for violence, and he strongly disagrees with background checking for mental illness.

"Now if you want to do a background check for anyone with a mental illness, what do you mean by that? Do you mean anyone who has been anxious? Anyone who has been depressed?" Dubovsky said. "You start adding psychiatric illness to those background checks ... you won't find anybody ... that has a high risk of violence necessarily."

Dubovsky believes instead of psychiatric illnesses, background checks should look for violent behaviors like restraining orders, drunk driving and child abuse.

Amanda Nickersonbelieves the proposed laws are moving in the right path toward curbing mass shootings.

Amanda Nickerson, director of the Alberti Center for Bullying and Abuse Prevention, believes a decrease in violence starts by working with kids from a young age. She thinks it should be done by teaching skills not consistent with violence in order to create a generation that engages in non-violent behavior.

She believes Obama's proposals make sense and is hopeful they will save lives. But Nickerson is not completely sold on the idea because she believes it is unlikely to contribute to a steep drop in violence in the United States.

"Mass shootings, in particular school shootings, are so rare [that] trying to assess what is going to actually change those is difficult to do," Nickerson said.

In the early 2000s, an FBI report revealed two-thirds of school shooters were chronically bullied, according to Nickerson. However, she points out most victims of bullying do not become violent but become depressed or anxious.

She notes there should also be a concern with physical security in schools - making sure there is ample supervision and people prohibiting access to schools for people who shouldn't be there.

Nickerson said putting more guns in schools by adding armed guards, and especially arming teachers, could have dangerous outcomes, but she sees a place for school resource officers.

"Having someone that is well-trained, who might also be armed and has a role in the school and is part of a comprehensive crisis team in the school is a good idea," Nickerson said.

Nickerson was pleased with the comprehensiveness of Obama's proposals because it dealt with gun control, mental health issues, threat assessment and crisis preparedness in schools.

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