Americans are Apathetic about Gun Violence
Mass shootings in Michigan and Kansas in less than a week of each other are the latest in a series of killings across America as a result of guns. This time it has not sparked a national conversation on the issue of gun safety and regulation. Yet, the unwillingness to prevent more gun deaths has created a dangerous acceptance and normalcy around gun violence. This precedence has created one of the most deadly societies in the world at the hands of guns.
Last year, more than 13,385 people, including 692 children, were killed in the United States in a gun homicide, unintentional shooting, or murder/suicide, costing the nation $229 billion. This means that guns killed 36 Americans per day last year excluding most suicides of which there are more than 20,000 each year.
Deaths caused by guns have declined over the past twenty years. In 1993, there were 7 homicides by guns for every 100,000 Americans, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but by 2013, that figure had fallen by nearly half, to 3.6 for every 100,000 Americans — a total of 11,208 firearm homicides. Over the past decade, 71 Americans were killed from domestic attacks of terrorism, yet in the same period 301,797 people were killed by guns and 40 percent of Americans say they know someone who was fatally shot or committed suicide with a gun.
These statistics have not galvanized greater political will and media awareness to promote gun safety. America has failed to acknowledge the significance guns play in violent deaths, an exponentially greater killer than terrorism. President Obama has been thwarted by Congress on every occasion he has attempted to introduce basic gun safety measures. Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on December 14, 2012, and the inability of Congress to pass reforms, Obama announced late last year an executive order focused on introducing basic gun safety measures, including background checks for gun purchasers.
Certain groups are more vulnerable to gun crime than others. Women are more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence. Since the landmark Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, reported cases of domestic violence plummeted by 64 percent. And yet, still today an average of three women are killed every day. Domestic violence assaults with firearms are 12 times more likely to result in death than those without.
Black America also suffers disproportionately from gun violence. Of the 30 Americans murdered with guns every day on average, 50 percent are African-American, who comprise only 6 percent of America’s population. ProPublica notes that “gun death victims are men of color in poor, segregated neighborhoods that have little political clout.” The Brookings Institute highlights that while a vast majority of white gun deaths are from suicides this varies drastically with black America, where 82 percent were homicides between 2011 and 2013. Gun violence in poor suburbs can trigger a downward spiral in education, health, family instability, and social capital. It represents an example of race and inequality, making it even more difficult for black men to break free from poverty and violence.
Treating gun violence as a public health issue is one way to close the loopholes. America is home to between 270 million to 310 million guns in private hands. Eliminating guns will not happen, and it doesn’t need to in order for there to be a reduction in lethal force. We have always welcomed policies that reduce the risk of death from products we use in our everyday lives. Universal background checks for those acquiring guns are a common-sense approach. New Harvard research suggests that about 40 percent of guns in America are acquired without a background check. In a poll last year, 85 percent approve of universal background checks, even among gun owners.
It has worked to reduce intimate partner gun violence. Among the 15 states that require background checks for all handgun sales, there are 38 percent fewer women killed by intimate partners. The poll also showed support for wider reforms, including more penalties against firearm dealers who are careless, reckless, or negligent and banning those under 21 from owning guns, and requiring guns to be locked up at home. There have many instances of children under the age of three getting hold of unsecured guns at home and killing or injuring themselves or someone else. On November, 20 Democrats in the U.S Senate requested the Government Accountability Office provide a report on the safe storage of guns in American homes.
A study published by the American Psychological Association found that only a small percentage of crimes can be attributed to mental illness, and there were no predictable patterns linking criminal behavior and mental illness.
In some states, little thought has gone into how to protect at-risk groups. Celia Israel, a Democratic state representative, has spoken of the “unintended consequence” of Texas’ new pro-gun laws, which has meant a greater risk of open-carry in mental health institutions. Austin State Hospital, a psychiatric facility in Texas, pulled down its “no guns” signs, and while guns are still banned in state-licensed general and specialty hospitals, this excludes hospitals like the Austin State Hospital as they are not officially state-licensed. The hospital still has signs up asking visitors to leave their guns in their cars or conceal them voluntarily. Another new law kicks in this year to force public universities to allow licensed gun owners to carry their guns on campus.
There is a need for funding mental health services. Obama’s executive order allocates $500 million towards increasing mental health access. More recently, Obama ordered CDC to begin researching gun violence, but the agency still lacks funding and might be concerned over a backlash from Congress. In January this year, Obama directed the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and Justice to develop and increase research into gun safety technology. These new technologies aim to minimize accidental discharges and trace lost or stolen guns.
By bypassing CDC, the results might be limited. Congress needs to come on board to push for CDC to lead on research but that is unlikely to happen.
GVA continues to record staggering numbers of gun deaths this year. In the first eight weeks of 2016, 2,098 people have died and 4,127 have been injured by guns. These figures exclude gun-related suicides. The most disturbing aspect to these figures: This is America’s unacknowledged crisis. We should acknowledge Michael Moore’s analysis on gun violence in America: “It’s the fear of getting killed that is getting a lot of us killed.” Passing basic and common-sense laws is guaranteed to save lives. Doing nothing is no longer an acceptable option.