KOLB: What Congress Can Do To Reduce Gun Violence

Charles Kolb Deputy Assistant to George H.W. Bush
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The epidemic of gun violence is galvanizing the nation as we approach autumn, when schools reopen and Congress returns from its August recess. Parents will surely be worrying whether their children are safe at school, and advocates on both sides of the gun-safety issue will be urging national and state leaders to act, one way or the other: on universal background checks, assault weapons restrictions, and removing weapons from mentally unstable or potentially violent individuals. This is America, so lawsuits will follow whatever steps are taken, or not taken.

The frequency of American gun violence is unacceptable. The problem is epidemic in Chicago and Baltimore, and we’re seeing once relatively calm urban centers traumatized again by violent street crimes. Washington, D.C., and New York City had experienced notable decreases in violent crimes and are now seeing those trends reversing. Our homes, schools, places of worship, malls, streets, and outdoor entertainment areas must be safe places for everyone.

We are also learning about more “private” acts of violence: coercive or criminal behavior that occurs behind closed doors in the workplace, our homes, and even some religious institutions. Until relatively recently, these incidents have been ignored, underreported, or rationalized. Many situations have involved high-profile individuals: celebrities such as Harvey Weinstein, Mark Helprin, Matt Lauer, and Charlie Rose accused of sexual assault or harassment; a secretary of defense nomination withdrawn amidst domestic violence allegations; a White House staff secretary dismissed after allegedly abusing two former wives; and priests who tolerated, excused, or committed pedophilia.

Private violence or coercion involves exercising power over another usually weaker or dependent individual. This behavior often violates civil or criminal laws: creating a hostile workplace, sexual harassment, (felony) assault and battery, and rape.

We debate the causes of today’s violence: hateful language, social media, easily obtainable guns, violent music, movies, and video games. The reasons are surely complex, but the solutions to private violence are not: perpetrators must be outed, shamed, and punished; victims must come forward and be made whole; and appropriate laws must be vigorously enforced.

Exposure, deterrence, and punishment must become the norm, not the exception. As we now know with “broken windows” community policing, unreported or unaddressed crimes of lesser violence can escalate into more serious, sometimes fatal crimes.

Much of this private violence entails men against women, underage boys, and young girls. Creeps like Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and hundreds of Roman Catholic priests illustrate the problem’s seriousness. Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking of underage teenagers would have entailed statutory rape. Epstein may be dead, but law-enforcement authorities must track down and prosecute every individual involved in his demented activities, regardless of who they are. “Boys will be boys” is never acceptable.

Such violence, however, does not only involve men against women: I was the victim of an incident with a former partner, who is also the mother of our 7-year-old son. I did not report the incident at the time, but some months later called the police. They were emphatic: I should have called them immediately. There are undoubtedly many reasons (surprise, fear, shame, financial, marital) why victims may choose not to report such violence immediately, but I now appreciate the need to report such behavior promptly and for society to encourage disclosure.

These episodes of public and private violence in America must cease. We must also be more vigilant about the private violence that rarely makes the headlines. When these perpetrators are exposed, shamed, prosecuted, and (where necessary) treated mentally, the overall level of violence in our society will decline.

Here’s a concrete, constructive suggestion: the Congress should hold bipartisan, comprehensive hearings this fall on the causes of American violence, at all levels. Let’s understand why these incidents occur, how to stop them, and how to minimize the glorification of violence that occurs throughout our media, culture, and society. Millions of Americans might welcome a serious effort to understand first before legislating later. After all, people can’t blame the NRA for everything.

All Americans have a stake in solving this problem. If more Americans became advocates for ending violence in all its manifestations, our nation might become safer. Congress should launch the national discussion this year. Banning assault weapons might be one approach, but doesn’t it also make sense to understand why these assaults, mass murders, and other violent acts are occurring here in the first place?

Charles Kolb was deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy in the George H.W. Bush White House from 1990-1992. From 1997-2012, he was president of the nonpartisan, business-led think tank, the Committee for Economic Development.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.