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Annie, give up your gun: `more Americans died from gunshots in the last two years than in the entire Vietnam War'.

Having a gun in your home is almost an article of faith in the United States. Many see it as the ultimate protection against dictatorship. The second amendment to the Constitution states that `a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed'. These words are used by many to thwart controls on guns, even on automatic weapons.

Facts, however, are helping to turn the tide. More than 60,000 Americans died from gunshots in the last two years, more than died in the entire Vietnam War. In 1995, more people were killed by firearms than by motor vehicles.

If you have a gun in your home the risk of harm to your friends and family increases 45-fold. Far from protecting family members, guns in the home increase their risk of suicide five-fold and of homicide three-fold. Fifteen American children are killed by guns every day; children who accidentally shoot themselves or another child usually do so with a gun they have found in their home, or that of a family member or friend. As the Oregon Health Forum points out, the country faces `a firearm public health epidemic'.

In Oregon, at the beginning of this year, metal detectors were brought for the first time into schools, an experience already familiar to 80 per cent of the nation's largest school systems. The aim is to deter children from bringing weapons to school. Oregon's action is part of a nationwide effort by schools to insulate themselves from a violent society. Some 50 murders occur each year at US schools.

I mention all this to call attention to Ceasefire Oregon, a grassroots group formed in 1993 which seeks to reduce casualties through the voluntary surrender of firearms and by promoting educational programmes on gun violence. It is an allvolunteer venture sponsored by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO).

According to Dr Linda Erwin, trauma surgeon at a local hospital and board member of Ceasefire Oregon, prevention will not only save lives but money. She says that the average cost for hospital treatment for one gun wound is $33,000 and that 85 per cent of such patients are un- or under-insured.

Ceasefire Oregon was the inspiration of Portland teacher Julie Wheeler. On a visit to Boston, she noticed a wedding announcement where the bridal couple asked friends, instead of giving them presents, to make donations to a local gun buy-back programme. Discovering that there was no such programme in Oregon, she got one started.

Two gun turn-ins have taken place, netting about a thousand guns. In return for their guns, participants received vouchers for goods donated by area businesses. One man who turned in his gun was not satisfied with what was offered and asked if he could take it back. Certainly, he was told. He went to the police who said, yes, he could have it back, but they would then arrest him immediately as sawn-off shotguns were illegal in Oregon. He left without it.

As the Boston experience shows, Portland is not the only city with such a programme. But it is believed to be the only city which is approaching guns as a public health issue.

Rodney Page, Executive Director of EMO, hopes those thousand guns may soon turn up again. Not in people's hands. They have been melted down. But on lapels as small pins that depict swords being turned into ploughshares.
COPYRIGHT 1996 For A Change
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Michael Henderson
Publication:For A Change
Date:Apr 1, 1996
Words:580
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