Why Gun Regulation is a Health Care Priority

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      
is dependent not just on health care, but also
on a decent standard of living –including
adequate food, clothing, housing, and social
services – and on a safe community. It is not
enough for people to have access to health
care once they are already ill or injured; our
community must also use a public health
perspective to prevent illness, injuries, and
deaths from occurring in the first place.
Right now, the health and wellbeing of our
communities are undermined by the epidemic
of gun-related injuries and deaths.Approximately
29,000 people in the United States
were killed by guns in 1999. Twice as many
people were treated in emergency rooms for
non-fatal gun-related injuries that year.
Many of these injuries and deaths are
preventable. Champaign County Health
Care Consumers (CCHCC) is working to
mobilize a local coalition to fight for more
sensible national policy on guns that emphasizes
consumer rights and public health.We
are working for federal legislation that
would regulate guns as a consumer product
and on legislation to re-authorize and
strengthen the federal Assault Weapons Ban.
Guns – like prescription drugs, insecticides,
household chemicals, and many other
products found in American homes – are
inherently dangerous. Yet guns, unlike other
inherently dangerous products, and unlike
nearly all other consumer products in America,
are not regulated for health and safety.
The history of consumer product regulation
clearly demonstrates that a significant number
of illnesses, injuries, and deaths can be
prevented by health and safety regulation.
CCHCC has endorsed the
Firearms Safety and Consumer
Protection Act, which would
subject the gun industry to the
same health and safety regulations
as virtually all other products
sold in America. The bill
would give the Department of
Justice strong consumer protection
authority to regulate
the design, manufacture, and
distribution of firearms and
ammunition. This legislation would finally
end the gun industry’s deadly immunity
from regulation and make our communities
safer, but without limiting the public’s access
to guns for sporting and other legitimate
purposes, and without outright banning all
guns. For more information about the
Firearms Safety and Consumer Protection
Act, visit www.regulateguns.org.
CCHCC has also begun a campaign to
reauthorize and strengthen the federal
Assault Weapons Ban. Civilian assault
weapons are semi-automatic versions of military
weapons designed to rapidly lay down a
wide field of fire, often called “hosing down”
an area. This increased lethalness makes
them particularly dangerous in civilian use.
In 1994, Congress passed and President
Clinton signed a ban on the production of
certain semi-automatic assault
weapons and high-capacity
ammunition magazines. This
law banned a list of 19 specific
assault weapons and other
assault weapons incorporating
certain design characteristics.
The law is scheduled to sunset on
Sept. 13, 2004. If not reauthorized,
it will then be perfectly
legal for the gun industry to
begin mass-producing and marketing
semi-automatic military-style assault
weapons like AK-47s to civilians.
But it is important not just to re-authorize
the current law, but also to strengthen it.
Over the past decade, the gun industry has
circumvented the law, designing and marketing
“post-ban” assault weapons like the
Bushmaster XM15 — the rifle used by the
Washington, DC-area snipers — that incorporate
slight cosmetic modifications to
evade the ban. Therefore, the reauthorization
of the ban must include substantial
improvements to prevent the gun industry
from continuing to flood America’s streets
with these deadly weapons. CCHCC has
joined a broad coalition of more than 260
national, state, and local organizations
(including 20 other organizations in Illinois)
that is supporting the legislation to implement
a stronger, more effective assault
weapons ban.
Representatives Carolyn McCarthy (DNY)
and John Conyers (D-MI) have introduced
the Assault Weapons Ban and Law
Enforcement Protection Act of 2003 (H.R.
2038), which would significantly strengthen
current law to address limitations in the ban
that have allowed the gun industry to circumvent
it. H.R. 2038 currently has 100
cosponsors. A companion bill, S. 1431, has
been introduced in the Senate by Senators
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Jon Corzine
Over the next year, until the current
Assault Weapons Ban expires, Champaign
County Health Care Consumers will be
working to educate the community about
the need to renew and strengthen the Assault
Weapons Ban through video showings,
leafleting, letter writing, educational reports,
and other activities. CCHCC will also be
working to communicate the public support
for ban renewal to our area representatives
and Illinois Senators. For more information
on the Assault Weapons Ban, visit
We are urging community members to
tell congress that our community’s safety
and wellbeing outweigh the gun industry’s
interest in increasing profits. If you are interested
in receiving more information, helping
with either of these two projects, or being
added to the gun regulation project mailing
list, please contact CCHCC at 352-6533.

Allison Jones is a part
time staff member at
CCHCC and a student
at the University
of Illinois. Some of
her projects at
CCHCC include work on the Women’s
Health Task Force, the Gun Regulation
Project, and the Medical Debt Coalition.

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