Opinion:  It’s Time To End America’s Epidemic Of Gun Violence

Photo: ronniechua. istock.

“I had hoped, when I became president, I would not have to do this again. Another massacre.” President Joe Biden on the day of the Uvalde shooting

It’s June 2, and just this year alone, there have already been more than 200 mass shootings.  Since Uvalde, just nine days ago, there have been 20.  Just last night, there were three more.

As a nation, the US has less than 5% of the world’s population, but holds 46% of the world’s civilian-owned guns and holds the horrific distinction of being the worst country in the world for mass casualty and gun violence.  While our Democratic legislators in Washington craft legislation designed to counter gun violence, and stand on their heads to accommodate GOP legislators committed to obstructing such legislation from passing, while actively generating media blitz advertising that their Democratic counterparts are just sensationalists, we private citizens are left wondering whether we will survive an outing to the grocery store.  What if we have to go to the hospital? Will we be shot while waiting for emergency care?  Should we send our children to school? What about going to our house of worship?  Where will we be safe to pursue our own self-affirmed choices? 

If you survey Americans, a sizable majority want our legislators to act. Yet they do nothing.  Why?  Greed, love of power, desire to hold onto the seat they ostensibly won in order to serve.  Meanwhile in the US, you have to show ID to purchase allergy medicine, but you can walk into any store in the majority of states and purchase a gun – legally.  Books are banned, but guns are legal.  Abortion will likely soon be banned in many states, but not guns.  Bans are being proposed on what bathrooms children can use, but guns can be purchased just about anywhere. 

Contrary to what the GOP and gun rights advocates would lead us to believe, the data are clear on gun violence. They are not ambiguous.  When the US had an assault weapons ban that included high-capacity magazine weapons (1994-2004), gun violence and deaths declined.  When the ban was allowed to expire, gun violence and deaths increased – exponentially. 

The GOP wants us to believe that gun violence is related to mental illness, that the majority of gun owners are responsible.  This is a longstanding tactical argument designed to stigmatize those who suffer from mental illness and confuse and divide the majority of people who want our legislators to take action to protect us.  While it is true that people suffering with mental illness are responsible for a sizeable percentage of gun violence, tragically, the majority of this violence is death by suicide, not homicide.  Successful suicide increases exponentially when people have access to a gun. 

The truth is that in recent years, white men are responsible for the majority of mass casualties, and men are nearly 100% responsible for domestic violence homicide.  According to a 2021 article in the Guardian, every 16 hours somewhere in the US a woman is fatally shot by a former intimate partner.  Rates of intimate partner violence ending in homicide rose 25% in 2020, and women accounted for more than 2/3 of these victims  Even more shocking is that the true numbers of intimate partner violence and death by firearms aren’t even known because the federal government doesn’t track these kinds of fatal shootings. 

Guns are the number one weapon used in domestic violence deaths.  Just owning a firearm makes a domestic abuser five times more likely to kill their partner.  ” …more than two-thirds of recent mass shootings in the US involved perpetrators who killed partners or relatives or had a history of domestic abuse.”   The greatest predictor of future violence is past violence.  These threats are already known, yet somehow after every tragedy, law enforcement seems to claim “this person wasn’t on anyone’s radar.”

Swift action has been taken by other countries following mass casualties.  New Zealand, the UK, Australia, Norway, Germany, Canada, all took action after mass casualty incidents, and the results speak for themselves.  All of these countries saw decreases in deaths related to gun violence.  More importantly, taking action through policy is a way of communicating what we value.  It says that we as a country actually value the lives of our living citizens, and their freedom to educate their children, worship in their sanctuaries, seek needed medical care, work and move through the marketplace, etc., without fear of or actually being gunned down. 

Ultimately, we as a nation will need to decide how long we will tolerate this insanity.  If you feel strongly that our legislators should at least try to enact legislation to address this serious and catastrophic public health emergency, please show up for the November election, and vote for legislators who have a demonstrated track record of truly representing the needs of the people, not the gun lobby.

Deb Neubauer is a licensed social worker in community mental health and a resident of Amherst.

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