May 27, 2022 – We already know the truth about gun access and gun violence — the problem is the guns. There’s little left to talk about. We need to act.
This week, an 18-year-old man entered an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and murdered at least 19 children and two adults.
Just two weeks earlier, an 18-year-old white supremacist shot up a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 people, all of whom were black.
According to the Gun Violence Archive as of this writing, there have been 214 mass shootings in 2022; 17,428 people have died from gun violence, 9,702 by suicide. There have been 142 children killed by guns, and another 303 injured.
In 2020, the most recent year for which we have complete data, over 45,000 people died from gun violence in the U.S.
Currently, there is about one gun for every person in the U.S.
The day before the mass shooting at the elementary school in Uvalde, the FBI shared that there was an alarming spike in active shooters in 2021.
When it comes to gun violence, we’re one of the worst countries in the world.
Even if we weren’t one of the worst, the sheer number of those killed by gun violence is staggering.
If you ask some of the leading proponents of the “gun rights” movement (mind you, not the majority of gun owners), the cause stems from any number of things, most notably a widespread mental health crisis. And I should say without hesitation that we should do more on this front — more funding for mental health services, expansion of health care, etc.
But to say that our high level of gun violence and growing frequency of mass shootings is due almost exclusively to a mental health epidemic is problematic and harmful for a few reasons.
First, it shifts the blame to individuals who struggle with their mental health, further stigmatizing mental illness and reaffirming unfair notions that any divergence from “normal” mental health is dangerous. And by the transitive property, when people who associate “evil” with “poor mental health,” as well as “poor mental health” with nonbinary gender identities, you get stuff like this.
Second, the blame shift flat out ignores the overwhelming evidence that the problem is the guns. Here’s some of that data:
- A study looking at mass shootings and gun availability between 1966 and 2012 found a statistically significant relationship between the two.
- Another study looked at gun safety laws and gun-related injuries, finding that among 130 countries between 1950 and 2014 more gun safety legislation was strongly associated with less gun violence.
- Wouldn’t ya know, a third study found that Australia’s 1996 gun law reform almost completely eliminated mass shootings in the country afterward.
- Since I still have you, a study from this year found that states with stronger gun safety laws saw lower levels of gun violence.
These are just the studies I could find within a 10 minute Google search, so it’s not like this information is hard to find or understand.
What this batch of research tells us is actually two-fold: Gun access heavily correlates with the likelihood of gun violence AND better gun safety laws have help prevent gun violence.
This second point is an important distinction because folks will say “gun laws don’t work, just look at places like Chicago” while ignoring the countless pieces of information proving they’re incorrect.
(Regarding Chicago: The city and the State of Illinois have stricter gun laws than neighboring states. The issue isn’t that these laws “do nothing,” but rather that these other states have much laxer gun laws. In other words, many of the guns involved in Chicago’s crimes come from out of state.)
So, we have a ton of information showing better gun safety laws can decrease the prevalence of gun violence. It’s not complicated: If we make guns harder to get, there’d be less gun violence.
There’s not really a substitute for these kinds of gun measures (which I’ll highlight in a second). The idea of a “good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun” is overblown, as we saw when several good guys did not prevent someone from murdering at least 19 children and two adults in Uvalde this week.
We need to do more about guns, not less. There are degrees to which we can make life-saving changes — red flag laws, ammunition checks, bump stock bans, safe storage requirements, background checks, etc. None of these measures will completely eliminate gun violence individually, but we can bunch these together in effective ways.
A 2019 study found that a combination of three specific gun laws about who can access these weapons — universal background checks, gun purchase bans for violent offenders, and laws allowing police discretion in approving concealed carry permits — is a potent answer to gun violence.
Massachusetts has perhaps the best model for gun safety laws in the U.S. To purchase a gun in the state, you need to pass several rounds of background checks, interview with law enforcement, and share a bunch of personal information before getting a permit to buy a gun.
After this, you need to pass more background checks and register your gun with a state-run database.
Thanks to these measures, Massachusetts consistently ranks near or at the bottom for gun violence every year. And while the state has a low rate of gun ownership, about 97% of applicants still get approved, meaning this system effectively weeds out and deters bad actors without outright banning guns.
Solutions are staring at us in the face, and they aren’t the addition of guards or guns at synagogues, churches, and schools.
You might be reading this and thinking “I know all of this already.” To this I say, “join the club.” Most Americans presumably know this too since a clear majority support such measures.
So why are we continuing to “debate” the issue of gun violence when we basically know with certainty that gun safety laws would help prevent gun violence?
The answer won’t shock you: We have a mess of dark money, misinformation, and feckless leaders who, though making up a minority in the U.S., continue to have veto power because there aren’t enough folks with courage in positions of power right now.
And now, more than ever, the problem has been relegated to the states. This allows some states to do nothing to prevent gun violence, and it effectively sabotages efforts by more responsible ones.
As long as we allow Congress to sit on its hands, as long as we look away from the going-ons of our state governments, this will only get worse. Harmful deflection of blame will continue, our broken system of safety and accountability will endure, and people will continue to die.
So here’s what you can do:
- Donate and volunteer for groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, which advocate at the state and federal level for commonsense gun safety laws.
- Contact your representatives in your state to say you’d like them to support gun safety laws. (And share this link with others so they can find their reps.)
- Support local gun violence prevention groups, like this outreach organization in Chicago that has helped dramatically lower gun violence in West Side neighborhoods.
- Calmly and politely talk to others about this issue. This can be tough, uncomfortable, or even scary, but it’s an important conversation to have. Try framing it as a safety issue — because that’s exactly what it is.
It’s hard not to feel discouraged by the news lately. Anger comes naturally. We can’t turn back the clock and prevent the murder of 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, nor can we do this for the thousands of others killed with guns or millions of others otherwise impacted by gun violence in the past.
But nothing will change if we don’t try. We don’t have to live in a society in which historically marginalized communities and children are at a heightened risk for gun violence. It takes courage and a basic understanding of the landscape, but we can do this.