For decades, gun violence has plagued communities throughout our nation but, as we have all seen, the rate of shootings is accelerating and the death tolls are mounting. According to The Gun Violence Archive, there were over 300 multiple-victim homicides in 2019 alone! From Virginia Tech to Columbine to Virginia Beach to Atlanta to Colorado, the devastation these shootings leave behind has ripple effects for the families and communities left struggling to make sense of what seems senseless. The cost in sorrow is immeasurable, but the economic impact can be measured, and it’s huge.
Although gun violence is commonly treated as a criminal justice issue, medical organizations such as the American Public Health Association and the American Psychiatric Association have highlighted this uniquely American tragedy as a public health crisis. This does not mean that all these gunmen are psychotic or that those who suffer with mental instability are dangerous. This is not what that means! What it does mean is that depression and rage often are at play in these shootings, and more gun laws will not solve the problem. In fact, most of the mass shootings were perpetrated by individuals who bought their weapons legally and were not under suspicion of being a danger. Also, having come from a 30-year career in wildlife, many of my colleagues were avid sportspersons and responsible gun owners, because who can get a gun is crucial
Additionally, the issue of gun violence goes beyond mass shootings. For example, statistics show that “nine children and teens were killed with guns each day in America” in 2017 with Black and Hispanic children and teenagers disproportionately suffering the most from gun violence. In Virginia, the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) recorded 36 incidents of multiple victim violence in 2013, with 19 of those incidents followed by suicides.
In fact, the CDC reports that 62% of all firearm related deaths are suicides. The report goes on to say that “there does not appear to be a strong correlation between the strictness of state gun laws and the percentage of gun fatalities that are suicides.” This suggests not only that depression is a very real factor in the lives of these victims, but that we need to do a lot more than pass more legislation if we want to address gun violence in a meaningful way. Certainly, having national standards would be helpful, but it’s not enough. The reality is that gun violence is complex and multifaceted. This means we need a multi-pronged approach to address the issue holistically. To stem the epidemic of gun violence in America we must:
- Ensure that community-led services are easily accessible and detached from criminal justice
- Identify and increase funding for under-resourced groups that tackle gun violence-related social and health issues, especially in communities of color and rural areas
- Erase past criminal convictions ineligibility to receive monetary aid from Victims of Crime Act
- Ensure that survivors have the ability to receive long-term healthcare without having to go bankrupt
- Establish federal background checks and close the Charleston loophole
- Increase funding for CDC research on gun violence
- Increase education about gun violence and implement a public awareness campaign to bring social pressure (similar to ‘friends don’t let friends drive drunk’)
- Place a federal restriction on bullets