Here we go again. Another mass shooting. Another community in pain, especially when so many were so young and innocent. And another cry for Congress to do something. And then the same explanation that gun reform won’t prevent mass shootings and we need to protect our second amendment. And all of our condolences will soon melt away. Deja-vu.
Until we truly look at ourselves in the mirror, we are going to see this happen again. Those calling for a time of healing must realize that until something changes, there cannot be any real healing. I think that there are three major challenges that we, as a nation, must resolve to make happen before things can get better: education on guns, the will to cause change, and investing in programs that create situations to proactively reduce gun violence.
In 2021, Americans bought almost 20 million firearms, according to the Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting group.(1) One might think we’re going to war. Certainly, the various hate crimes against Asians and other groups, the increase in property crime, and COVID-induced mental challenges all contributed to us needing to feel safe. But, I wonder if folks knew some of the data below, whether they still would have gone ahead and bought so many firearms…
This is why education is so important:(2)
- The number of US deaths in 2019 from gun violence is about 4 per 100K people, which is 18 times higher than the average rate in other developed countries. The data shows that where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths.(3)
- Almost a third of US adults believe that there would be less crime if more people owned guns, per an April 2021 Pew Study. However, multiple studies show that where people have easy access to firearms, gun-related deaths tend to be more frequent, including by suicide, homicide, and unintentional injuries.
- While personal safety tops the list of reasons why American gun owners say they own firearms, 63% of US gun-related deaths are self-inflicted. Over 23,000 Americans died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds in 2019. That number accounts for 44% of the gun suicides globally and dwarfs suicide totals in any other country in the world.
- At six firearm suicides per 100,000 people, the US rate of suicide is, on average, seven times higher than in other developed nations.
- One of those studies, conducted by researchers at Stanford University, found that men who owned handguns were almost eight times as likely to die of self-inflicted gunshot wounds as men who didn’t own a gun. Women who owned handguns were 35 times as likely to die by firearm suicide, compared to those who didn’t, according to the 2020 study, which surveyed 26 million California residents over a more than 11-year period.
- Gun-related deaths were reduced after the introduction of stricter laws in Australia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Finland, and Germany.
While the clamor for change is loudest after tragedies, voters haven’t seemed to hold our politicians accountable. In a recent Gallup poll, only 52% of Americans said that they wanted gun control laws stricter, 35% wanted them to stay the same, and 11% wanted more lenient gun laws.(4) What happened to the fervor? We need an overwhelming majority to be for change, especially during elections. Another Pew Research Center poll showed that 38% of Americans agreed with the Republicans on gun policy while 37% of us agreed with the Democrats.(5) Without any significant majority, politicians feel no pressure to make any changes. And with a large lobbying group contributing to campaigns to keep or weaken current laws, we end up where we are today. It is clear that mass shootings will continue, but they will not cause any legislative action until there is enough political will. And that starts with voters making it a high enough priority for candidates and politicians.
Creating situations to prevent gun violence
While many point to the mentally ill as resorting to gun violence, research doesn’t agree. In fact, the prevailing conclusion is that the large majority of people with serious mental illness are never violent.(6)
There is some interesting research that gun violence is linked to the difficult situations that people need to navigate, especially young people. It is based on the idea that the people who inflict harm on others are not bad people by their nature, but make bad decisions during enormously difficult situations, and having readily available guns exponentially compounds their mistakes. Perhaps then the focus should be on investing in ways to reduce the environmental factors that push them into those difficult situations, or at a minimum, teach them how to effectively deal with those situations.
Consider this example, from one of Chicago’s most effective violence intervention programs, Becoming a Man (BAM).(6) Teens are paired up; one is given a rubber ball, and the other is given 30 seconds to get the ball out of his partner’s fist. Inevitably, the two teens end up on the ground, wrestling and fighting to get — or keep — the ball.
After the teens switch roles and the same struggle occurs, the BAM counselor asks why no one just asked their partner for the ball. They usually look surprised and say something along the lines of, “The other guy would have thought I’m a wuss.” The counselor asks the partner if that’s true. The usual answer: “No, I would have given it to him. It’s just a stupid ball.” (7)
Teaching tools for how to de-escalate what are perceived as difficult, insurmountable situations can help to prevent violence, especially gun violence. We need to invest and bring more of these conflict-resolution strategies to the community at large.
Other programs, such as Sandy Hook Promise’s Say Something, teach students and adults how to look for warning signs and threats, including on social media, of someone at risk of hurting themselves or others, and how to speak up to a trusted adult before a tragedy can occur. This should be done at a community level.
Steve Kerr is right — but it’s time to take the fight to them
The night of the Texas shooting, before the Warriors game, Steve Kerr made an impassioned plea:
“When are we going to do something? I am tired. I am so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families out there. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough…So I ask you, Mitch McConnell, and all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and the school shootings and the supermarkets’ shootings — I ask you, are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our church-goers? Because that’s what it looks like. That’s what we do every week. I’m fed up. I’ve had enough. We can’t get numb to this. We can’t sit here and just read about it and say let’s have a moment of silence.” (8)
He is absolutely right. But while he called for the Senate to take action, I say we need to “take the fight to them” to address the three issues I have listed.
First, though, we need a large enough voice. So, how about the NBA partners up with the National PTA, with its 20,000 units representing over 3 million members? The PTA already has a position statement on gun safety and violence prevention that focuses on universal background checks, a federal ban on assault weapons, and a robust education program around gun safety and violence prevention.(9) This partnership would provide a big enough stage to provide education on guns so folks who are interested in purchasing guns can make an informed decision, as well as provide a conduit to offer de-escalation programs, gun buybacks, proactive awareness, and communication.
Then, what if this team joined forces with groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety, Giffords, San Hook Promise, and Brady Campaign to prevent gun violence? Together, this would be a force to be reckoned with for candidates and politicians to address issues like HR 8 and others.
Maybe we can get Steve to join us, after he leads the Warriors to their seventh championship.
- https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2022/01/PP_2022.01.25_biden-year-two_REPORT.pdf, pg 19