Friday, November 3, 2017

We Have a Gun Violence Problem

We Have a Gun Violence Problem 

by Ted Miller
(originally published November 2017 in Tumbleweird)

We have a problem with gun violence in the United States. If you don’t believe that, you are in denial.  More than 33,000 Americans die each year from a gun.  Homicides, suicides, domestic violence, mass shootings, and a small number of accidents. The common factor is a gun. An instrument designed to kill, efficiently and effectively.

Mass shootings get the sensationalized press, but there are so many more gun deaths that are barely noted in the daily crime statistics. Have we become so numb to the pain that each and every one of those deaths causes? Every year in the U.S. there are 21,000 suicides and 11,000 homicides carried out by gun. With each death, the lives of friends and family are forever changed. Most of those deaths are likely preventable.

When I heard the news of the October 1st Las Vegas shooting, where a single gunman on the 32nd floor of a hotel killed 58 people and injured hundreds of others attending a concert, all in a matter of minutes, my heart sank. And then as the inevitable polarized debate filled newspapers, opinion pieces and social media, I was angry.

Angry because yet again everyone retreated to their corners. The same rhetoric, the same shouting about the second amendment, the American way, the claim that the government is coming for your guns, and the refusal to accept that more guns means more gun violence. And in the end, no actual dialog, no proposed solutions, and nothing to help reduce gun violence.

33,000 deaths every year.  Is this really the price we have to pay for the right to bear arms? Why are we so divided and paralyzed to inaction that we can’t do anything?

When it became known that the so-called bump stock addition allowed the Las Vegas shooter to shoot like he had fully automatic weapons, a bill was introduced in congress to limit bump stocks, with majority support from the public. But three weeks later, that bill is stalled and all but forgotten. A number of local and state laws enacted to address gun violence across the country have recently been rolled back. How does that improve gun safety?

For any other public safety issue, we take action to find out the causes and then take corrective action to reduce or eliminate the hazard. Motor vehicle accident deaths have been regularly reduced, with the rate of fatalities per mile driven steadily reduced through better technology, better laws, and improved safety design. We fund research, enact regulations, and provide education that improves vehicle safety. We foster improvements in road design and traffic safety rules. And we hold manufacturers accountable when a defect in their design leads to vehicle fatalities.

“But driving a car is a privilege, not a right guaranteed by the constitution,” gun rights advocates say. So, does that mean the second amendment gives us an unlimited right to own weapons? Of course not.

We must take a hard look at the myriad of causes for gun violence, and then work to reduce the number of senseless deaths in this country. Focusing only on reducing mass shootings will do little to reduce gun suicides or domestic gun violence. Each of these problems will require a different combination of actions to address them. Gun violence is a complex problem with no simple solution.

So why can’t we study gun violence as a public safety issue and work toward reducing it? 

Outlawing all guns is not the answer, and very few people actually advocate for a repeal of the second amendment and a complete ban on guns. But we can reduce access to guns where studies show they are more likely to be used to kill. We can institute universal background checks and require all guns to be registered and licensed. We can prevent those who should not have a gun from having one. And we can do all of this while still protecting the constitutional rights of citizens to own guns.

Arguments against these types of improvements generally focus on a perceived need for citizens to arm themselves to protect their families and their property. We don’t have to restrict that right to reduce gun violence.

The opioid crisis was just declared a national emergency, allowing research to be done and action to be taken to reduce the number of deaths due to opioid addiction and abuse. Industry safety regulations enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have been developed over the years to improve safety in the public space. Medical advances have improved public health over the years, often funded by government research to target problems and create solutions to our most pressing problems. Let’s look at the gun violence problem the same way.

As citizens, we must work together to demand action. We must talk to each other instead of talking over one another. And we must reduce the power of the gun lobby that prevents any rational discussion about gun violence.

I refuse to accept that 33,000 deaths each year is the price we have to pay for the second amendment. This can’t be what our founding fathers intended when they passed the bill of rights.