The mass shootings are deeply disturbing, but we must keep the totality of the crisis in view if we are to create meaningful gun reform. In 2016 there were 14,000 gun homicides; 456 of those deaths came from a mass shooting - about 3.3%.
On Saturday, young activists presented a diverse and widely inclusive face to the nation. They understand that gun violence is not an equal opportunity destroyer. According to a December 2016 report of the Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention:
- Of the 3,702 firearm homicides committed against youth in 2014, 68% were carried out against African Americans, 19% against Hispanics, 12% against whites, and 1% against others.
- Fully 70 percent of all firearm homicides of 10- to 19-year-olds were committed in the most populous metropolitan areas of the country which are among our most diverse communities.
An additional widening of the lens occurs when we take into account the impact on bystanders of gun violence. Witnesses to violence are at increased risk for a variety of mental health issues, which can manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, poor academic performance, substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, delinquency, and violent behavior. And given the data, these costs weigh largely on the shoulders of Black and Latino Americans.
There is another impact of easy access to guns for youth: almost half of youth suicides were carried out with a firearm. Most people who attempt suicide and fail do not make further attempts; very few attempted suicides with a firearm fail.
Local and state gun regulations save lives. Across the United States the states with the strongest gun regulation also have the lowest rate of gun deaths. The gun homicide rate in Massachusetts is the lowest in the nation; Tennessee, which is of similar size and population, has no effective gun regulation and its death rate by gun violence is 5 times as high as Massachusetts’. There are many differences between these states, but the regulatory environment is crucial to saving lives. If every state lowered the rates of gun death to that of Massachusetts we would save 27,000 lives every year. This is the good news we can act on.
Call To Action
- Make a follow up call to your congressional representatives. Insist on gun reform that both limits access to the assault rifles used in mass shootings and the supply and distribution of handguns that are the instruments of murder and suicide throughout the country and in urban areas in particular.
- State and local laws and violence prevention efforts are key to safer schools, communities, and the nation. Tell your state and local legislators you want them to establish a legal framework and a civic climate for a safe, well regulated gun culture. Work for state and local reform. Join an activist group in your community.
- Understand what your state and municipal gun laws are and demand reform. This app from the Boston Globe will let you see where your state ranks in the campaign for gun reform and, therefore, what needs to be done in your community.
- Pay attention to all the individual stories of gun violence. Each victim deserves our collective attention. We need to speak up about the cost of gun violence in every community.
- When these conversations come up among family, friends and colleagues, help everyone understand the big picture beyond the mass shooting headlines.