October 9, 2017
Mass shootings are a dark reality of living in the United States of America, a country where guns outnumber people. But no matter how many times our lives are interrupted by yet another mass shooting, we still experience deep shock and pain each time a tragedy like Las Vegas plays out. We know these acts of gun violence are largely preventable. After mass shootings, we hear politicians offer “thoughts and prayers”, but rarely do they follow through with desperately needed policy change. In reality, mass shootings are only the tip of the gun violence ‘iceberg’—senseless deaths that continue to motivate us to fight for stricter gun controls. We must not let up.\
Mass shootings, defined as an event in which four or more people are killed within a 24-hour period, are both more common and becoming deadlier than ever. The deliberate lack of funding for gun violence research prevents us from understanding the complex conditions that drive such acts of mass violence—the easy access to military-grade weapons, ammunition and aftermarket add-ons; the unhealthy marketing of gun culture; and larger societal and structural problems that create conditions that foster gun violence. Gun violence is a public health crisis—the statistics are clear:
- More than 30,000 die in the US every year due to gun violence
- The U.S. gun death rate is 25 times higher compared to other developed countries
- Since 1968, we’ve seen more folks in the U.S. die by gun than war
The National Rifle Association, and the complacency/complicitness of many House and Senate members, has encouraged easy access and unchecked marketing of guns, threatening the safety of communities and individuals across the country. While mass shootings receive the vast majority of news coverage and attention, they are only one example of the price we pay for relaxed gun laws. We’ve seen limitations to federal gun laws intended to prevent domestic abusers from accessing firearms. We have highly inconsistent state-by-state gun control measures, some even waiving registration requirements. Police officers frequently lack the appropriate firearm training for crisis intervention, as do civilians seeking licenses for recreation. These factors contribute not only to easy access to guns, but also a large majority of firearm-related deaths that go largely undiscussed in our public discourse. The statistics that rarely make it into the media include:
- Women in abusive relationships are 5 times more likely to be killed by their abuser if they own a gun
- Eighty-five percent of deadly suicide attempts involve a gun
- The majority of gun deaths are by suicide as opposed to homicides
- Fewer than 5% of gun-related violence involve mentally ill persons in the U.S.
- Between Michael Brown’s death in August 9, 2014 and May 2017, police officers in the US killed at least 2,902 people
Gun violence, like many social ills in the U.S., is also an issue of health justice. Certain individuals and communities—particularly low income, immigrant, queer and communities of color—disproportionately bear the burden of lax gun control and related violence.
- Feeling unsafe in public spaces now impacts broader swaths of the population thanks to senseless, mass-murder attacks. However, this sense of not feeling safe disproportionately affects Black and Trans communities due to a long history of gun-related police brutality and Transphobia.
- White communities rarely worry about their identities being politicized during tragedies of gun violence, while immigrants and black communities are often portrayed as “inherently violent” or “terrorists”—regardless of evidence to support such claims.
- Schools should be a positive environment for children to safely return to routines after a tragic mass shooting. However, low-resourced schools, or those that lack the staff and resources necessary to help their students cope with the trauma of gun violence in their neighborhood can make matters worse. This often creates more harm, increasing the risk of untreated mental health needs.
Countries across the globe demonstrate that gun reform can reduce senseless violence. Especially gun reform that factors in specific gun controls and considerations of the social context in which people live. Many agree that gun control reform is needed at the national level, yet deep-rooted U.S. revisionist history that equates easy access to firearms with 2nd Amendment freedom leaves the issue of gun violence in a cultural blindspot. We must move beyond discussing gun reform and implement policies that prevent these events in the future. Meaningful and common-sense solutions are needed to better regulate gun sellers, manufacturers and lobbying groups, and current and future gun owners, including (starter list):
- Establish universal background checks for gun purchasing, including at gun shows and online;
- Highly restrict access to assault weapons and weapons with large capacity ammunition magazines;
- Strengthen basic firearm safety standards and regulations to ensure that if individuals do legally purchase a firearm, it’s not a poorly constructed and dangerous ‘junk gun’;
- Require adequate locking mechanisms and technology to prevent unauthorized users and children from firing a weapon;
- Ensure that all gun carriers are licensed and trained to properly use their weapon, including requiring regular refreshers on gun safety laws and practices;
- Invest public dollars in research to develop public health interventions to prevent gun violence;
- Allow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to collect and distribute gun violence data and statistics, and to lead research on preventing gun violence;
- Work in partnership in communities that are most impacted by gun violence to develop solutions that work for all communities; and
- Invest in community-based mental health services that are culturally appropriate.
Take action today! Find contact information for your local elected officials as well as more information on measures for concealed carry reciprocity and gun silencers that are currently being considered at the federal level.