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By Nadin Abbott

December 18, 2012 (San Diego’s East County)--It's not easy to speak of what happened last week at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, where a gunman opened fire. It is harder because this is not the first mass shooting, and probably will not be the last. But with the slaughter of 20 innocent children and 6 adults, we might finally hit a tipping point in how we look at guns and our culture.

I come at this not just as a gun owner, but also as a former first responder who saw firsthand what a NATO round or a Warsaw round can do to the human body. Mexico, where I worked with the Red Cross, is a place where these weapons are used regularly by the cartels.

It is a searing experience to have to transport an eight year old to the trauma center, with one or more of these rounds in his little body. It is even more searing when you have to reach for the sheet and cover the now lifeless body.

I can imagine what those first responders in Newtown found at Sandy Hook Elementary. It was, quite frankly, a war zone.

So, we all ask, what do we do? I have a series of proposals.

First, we need to ban all high capacity magazines. So, I have to reload my magazine more often at the range. So what? It also takes a well trained shooter three seconds to change a magazine. That is a valuable three seconds if you are trying to find cover. This has to be a federal ban. It does not work if one state does it and not others. 

Second, we need to actually look at mandating smart technology on all personally held weapons the moment the technology becomes good enough to be widely deployed. Smart gun technology will do a couple things. If I own a gun, and I whip it out in a self defense situation, and it is taken away from me, it cannot be fired by the person who took it. The Sandy Hook shooter could not have gunned down 26 people with his mother’s guns if the weapons had smart technology. Smart guns will also increase police officer safety and reduce accidental shootings involving children. It may very well reduce them to almost zero if every owner does this. New Jersey already has that law on the books. This needs to be federal.

Third, we actually need to start talking about what kinds of weapons we allow in civilian hands. I know this is very controversial, but this must be part of the conversation. Oh and this does not mean I am against hunting, hey, we need hunting... but ten rounds should be more than sufficient to bring down a deer. It goes without saying there are hunting standards that both state and federal officials have when issuing licenses; let's make those magazines legal, and that is that. You want to go target shooting, use your hunting magazines. 

Fourth, we need to look at the underlying causes for our violence. Video games and movies are a cheap cop out. We have a lot of violence in our society, and a lot of fear. Popular culture is a mirror to that environment of fear and violence that we live in. Poverty is a form of violence, and our lack of access to mental healthcare is a huge problem.  (In Sandy Hook should not  have  been an issue given Adam Lanza's mother did have the economic means)

We need to realize that commitment of somebody who should be institutionalized is almost impossible. We also have stigmatized mental disease to the point that people fear seeking help. It is, in some cases, a chronic condition, just like diabetes.  It is time we realize that and just treat it that way. 

Fifth, we need to close the gun show loophole. All guns must have an NCIS background check. Enough of this nonsense where 40% of all guns are sold by private hands with no back groundcheck.  For the record even NRA members want this, it is the leadership that is opposed to it.

Do we have to have a moment of national self reflection? Yes. Do we need to change as a society? Yes. Why? Sandy Hook was horrible and terrible, but  34,000 Americans die every year from gun violence. That is the national average.The large majority of people who die from gun violence, die from suicide. The correlation between guns and mental illness is clear. 

This is one of those moments when we truly have reached a fork in the road. Does this fork mean broad confiscation of all weapons? This is just as silly (and some fringe voices have suggested that), as having teachers armed in schools and increasing the number of of loose gun laws, as Governor Rick Perry of Texas suggested today. We as a nation need to find a balance. I think we are quite capable of this. 

With that, I will leave you with this though. Mass shootings in movie theaters, places of worship and schools have left me with reaching back to the skills I developed way back when I was  a first responder, going to real life shootouts. Looking for cover and being aware of my surroundings is right now the best defense. We should not live in a situation where we need to think of everyday tasks as if we were in a low intensity combat zone, but we are. This is how many in our society have been living for decades in disadvantaged communities. It is now becoming national. 

Hug your family, and hug your children. We need to do something to stop this senseless violence. If we don't after this now, I don't know when. 

Nadin Abbott is an award-winning freelance photojournalist and a former emergency responder. The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact



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