Warren County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Wright said there are no simple solutions to prevent tragedies like the one that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, but “we have to do something to take back our communities.”
Wright was the featured speaker at the Boone Area Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast in Concord Hill Wednesday morning.
“I think this has come to a head,” he said. “Groups are coming together to talk about this — to talk about the violence that we have in our society and what is it that we can do.”
Wright, the keynote speaker at the event, said there isn’t any one solution to curtailing violence in America.
“We can’t just say, ‘If we do this, or if we do this, this and this, violence will be gone,’ ” he said. “I wish we could, but we know it’s not realistic.”
Wright said there are specific issues that need to be put on the table and talked about that he thinks will have an impact on the violence that is in today’s society: guns, mental health, and parenting, including monitoring movies and the violence portrayed in some.
Wright currently serves as president of the National District Attorneys Association. Speaking on behalf of the organization, Wright urged Congress last December to enact restrictions on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and the “kind of things that inflict, for a lack of a better word, mass destruction.”
Wright expounded on some of the themes that the nation’s largest association of prosecuting attorneys has taken in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy in Newtown, Conn.
“Let me say first and foremost, I am not anti-gun,” Wright said. “I’m not anti-hunting or sports shooting, but I think what we need to look at are some of the things that have happened in our history.”
Since 1982 there have been 62 mass killings in the United States, which is defined as four or more people being killed, not counting the shooter, he said. Prior to the assault rifle ban in 1994, the average for mass killings was about 1 1/2 per year. During the time assault rifles were banned, the average stayed the same, Wright said. However, when the ban was lifted in 2004, mass killings started to rise.
“Twenty-five of the 62 mass killings have happened since 2006,” he said. “Seven of those occurred in 2012. The average since the ban (was lifted) has been 3 1/2 (per year).”
Not everyone in the audience agreed with Wright’s argument for enacting tougher gun laws or restrictions. One man, who asked not to be identified for safety reasons, said he didn’t think limiting assault rifles would stop mass killings.
“I was in law enforcement for 28 years,” said the man, who said he was a former lt. detective. “I never saw an AK or semi-automatic used in a homicide. I never saw (assault rifles) on the street.”
The former detective said lawmakers should consider placing trained armed officials in schools or other public places.
Wright said he didn’t know if that idea would be effective.
“Let’s use Kirkwood as an example,” he said, referring to the Feb. 7, 2008, shooting at the Kirkwood City Hall where a man killed two police officers and three city officials. “You have trained people with weapons, and he kills two of them before he gets inside. If a person is hell-bent on destruction, he’s going to get in there and do it. You are not going to stop them.”
Wright said there has been recommendations for stricter background checks on people who purchase guns, but even that doesn’t guarantee safety.
“Missouri is one of the best at reporting mental health information to the federal government that can be used in background checks,” he said. “But that’s not always going to stop them.”
A perfect example is Sandy Hook, Wright said.
“Even if that kid was diagnosed with some kind of mental disease, it wouldn’t have made a difference. There was no background check on that kid because his mother purchased those weapons.”
And while people are talking about directing more money into mental health care rather than enacting gun restrictions, Wright said the government continues to cut mental health spending.
“In Missouri, from 2009 to 2012, mental health dollars have dropped about $20 million,” he said. “Nationwide, it was a little over $4 billion.
“We’ve got to do a better job keeping the high-capacity weapons out of the hands of mentally ill people and that’s a tough one to get over,” he said.
Exposure to Violence
Wright said children in today’s society are exposed to violence and other controversial things much faster than when he was a child, and for much of that he blames technology.
“When I grew up, there wasn’t 24-hour news,” he said. “Statistics show that by age 5 or 6, 60 percent of kids are exposed to some type of violence.”
A majority of that exposure comes from television, movies, computers and video games, Wright said.
“Instead of playing with their kids, parents are sticking them in front of a television or video game,” he told the group, “and it’s not being monitored or controlled.”
They are being desensitized to violence, he added.
“It’s not that big of a deal to these little kids to see cartoon characters or someone else being shot up or blown up or whatever else,” Wright said. “You didn’t have all that out there 20, 30 or 40 years ago.”
Wright said he thinks that desensitization is a contributing factor to violence in today’s society and he thinks parents need to be aware of that.
Finding a Solution
While all the discussion is helpful, Wright said there is no one simple solution to stopping gun violence in America.
“We have to do something to take back our communities,” he said. “The sad part is we’re starting to do things and we’re starting to talk about this now because of Sandy Hook. Why didn’t we do this after Columbine? Why didn’t we do it when it happened at (Virginia Tech)? We should have been doing it before but we didn’t.”