For those of you who don’t know him, meet Congressman Eliot Engel. Engel represents New York’s 17th District (made up of the Bronx, Westchester and Rockland County). Engel sends out a monthly e-mail addressing various holidays, memorials and government events. Today, I received an e-mail from him addressing the struggle between Second Amendment rights to bear arms and the tragic acts of violence which have struck our country in recent years due to people in possession of guns.

What sparked Engel’s e-mail was the anniversary of both the Columbine High School shooting, April 20th, 1999, and the Virginia Tech University shooting, April 16, 2007. Both of these school shootings shocked the nation and comprehensive studies were undertaken in their wake to determine what prompted them and how to better protect the public. However, whatever progress has been made has been overshadowed by the 36 notable school shootings in North America alone which have occurred since.

A 37th incidence of gun violence in schools occurred just yesterday at Ross Elementary School in Houston. As the Huffington Post reported, a kindergartener brought a gun to school and it fell out of his pocket and went off, injuring himself and two other students. Although this occurrence, by all accounts an accident, does not have the same quality of menace, perhaps it is even more upsetting due to the very lack of intentionality and the perpetrator’s age. If students are not safe at their schools, where can they go?

As Engel writes,

With over 280 million guns in civilian hands, the terrible truth is that there is no place to hide from gun violence. Children and teens are not safe from gun violence at school, at home, or anywhere else in America. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 3,042 children and teens died from gunfire in America in 2007—one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 58 every week. Almost six times as many children and teens—17,523—suffered non-fatal gun injuries and the often lifelong emotional aftermath that follows. Gun violence, especially in poor communities, drives thousands of vulnerable young people into the pipeline to prison.

Engel cites statistics compiled by the Brady Campaign, founded by Reagan’s press secretary James Brady, which speak to the prevalence of gun violence:

-States with the highest levels of gun ownership have 114% higher firearm homicide rates, and 60% higher overall homicide rates than states with the lowest gun ownership;

-A gun in the home tends to be used more often for purposes other than self-defense. For every gun fired to injure or kill in self-defense, 11 were used in suicides, seven in criminal assaults and homicides, and four in unintentional shooting deaths or injuries.

-Every year there are only about 200 legally justified self-defense homicides by private citizens, compared with over 30,000 gun deaths.

However, taking away a person’s right to own a gun is not necessarily the solution. As we all know, guns are not always used for violence and can be useful in fact in preventing it, when the people operating the weapons know what they are doing. So, how do you find a happy compromise between the distinct conservative and liberal takes on the Second Amendment?

Engel proposes some strategies he has taken to negotiate this middle ground, such as:

[I] Introduced the Protect Law Enforcement Armor (PLEA) Act, HR 6030 in the previous Congress, which would ban the Five-seveN handgun. Several types of ammunition for the Five-seveN have the ability to pierce law enforcement body armor. The Five-seveN handgun is one of the most popular with traffickers supplying Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) who have nicknamed the gun the “mata policia” or “cop killier.” It was also used by Major Nidal Hasan in the horrific Fort Hood shooting last November where 13 people were killed and 30 others wounded. I plan to re-introduce the bill in the current Congress.

I support the steps he has taken. The task at hand now is to pinpoint various reforms that are in all of our best interests: keeping guns away from minors, out of schools and off the black market, to name a few. Perhaps once we’ve addressed these dangers we can move on to the second step, which is identifying aspects of our culture which promote violence and lead to the these tragedies.

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