While discussing the issue of gun violence recently with a few conservative-minded friends, I realized that there are many misconceptions concerning the gun control movement.

While recent tragedies such as those in Columbine, Paducah and Atlanta highlight the massive scourge of gun violence in our nation, most Americans do not realize that approximately 82 people, including 10 children, are killed each day by firearms. According to Kris Christoffel, author of Children’s Environments, the plague of gun violence is 10 times larger than the polio epidemic of the first half of this century.

However, many still view gun violence as a uniquely urban dilemma caused primarily by drugs and gang violence. Others see the bane of gun violence as all the more reason to own a firearm for self-protection. In reality, the majority of gun violence is caused by the availability of firearms, not premeditated actions or gang warfare. Crimes of passion, attempted suicides and accidents all become deadly when a gun is readily accessible.

The statistics are stunning. The National Crime Victimization Survey Report showed that Americans are three times more likely to be attacked at home by a person they know than by a stranger. According to the FBI Uniform on Crime Reports, in 1997, approximately half of murder victims were killed by someone they knew. And according to a 1998 report by the New England Journal of edicine, guns kept in the home for self-protection are 22 times more likely to be used to kill their owner or someone the owner knows than to they are to kill in self-defense.

So it is obvious that firearm violence presents a clear and present danger to the American public. The question remains – what can we do to curb gun violence?

Many of the common misconceptions about the gun control movement concern this crucial question. The National Rifle Association paints a picture of liberal Democrats in favor of banning the personal ownership of guns. The majority of the gun control movement, led by groups such as James Brady’s Handgun Control, Inc., is not trying to ban guns but rather to make them safer.

Firearms are one of the least regulated consumer products in America, and an average of one person dies every day because guns lack basic safety features. Guns are specifically exempt from the kind of federal product safety standards that apply to nearly every consumer product. When the Consumer Product Safety Commission was created in 1976, Congressman John Dingell (D-Mich.), an NRA board member at the time, inserted a provision expressly prohibiting the commission from regulating firearms or ammunition.

In contrast, between 1994 and 1997, eight models of teddy bears were recalled because they could pose choking hazards. In fact, at least four federal safety regulations apply to teddy bears: sharp edges and points, small parts, hazardous materials and flammability.

Because guns are unregulated, however, they do not have to comply with any product safety standards governing their design and manufacture, and many have design flaws that result in unintentional shootings. The fact remains that there are simple, proven, low-tech safety devices that can prevent unintentional shootings.

Chamber load indicators make sure the gun is unloaded. Magazine disconnect safeties prevent the gun from firing when the magazine has been removed. Grip safeties require a mature person’s hand to fire. These relatively unobtrusive solutions, which the firearm industry refuses to voluntarily enforce, could save hundreds of lives each year.

Basic safety regulation of the gun industry is a common sense measure that should attract bi-partisan support. In fact, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research, 88 percent of Americans favor childproofing guns, 82 percent support magazine disconnect safeties and 73 percent favor loaded-chamber indicators.

The NRA, however, adamantly claims that there are already too many regulations on the gun industry and categorically attacks any new legislation offered in Congress. One of the most powerful industry lobbies in Washington, D.C., the NRA’s money and influence, similar to that of the tobacco industry, has succeeded for decades in misleading Americans about the gun control movement.

While the lobby may donate millions upon millions of dollars to political campaigns, right here at Georgetown a grassroots effort is underway to take on the NRA. As one of the first chapters of the national Campus Alliance to End Gun Violence, Georgetown students are organizing letter-writing campaigns to Congress and lobbying trips to Capitol Hill.

Firearm violence is preventable, but the silent majority of Americans who support common-sense gun safety legislation must speak up and be heard over the roar of the NRA’s bank account.

Peter Denton is a sophomore in the College and publicity director for the Georgetown chapter of Campus Alliance to End Gun Violence.

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