I wanted to write about convicted rapist Brock Turner, but before I could get cogent thoughts typed out there was the Pulse massacre. I’m not sure I have cogent thoughts ready to be typed out about that tragedy and the epidemic of gun violence in the United States, but if I wait much longer there will be a new tragedy to write about.
Maybe that’s a bit morbid, but we live in a country now where mass shootings are too common. There isn’t one universally-accepted definition of a mass shooting, but using the metric of four victims – wounded and/or killed – in 2016 we’ve had 191 incidents in the United States as of June 21, 293 people killed, 705 people injured and countless lives forever changed.
And that’s just in 173 days. The U.S. is averaging just over one mass shooting, with 1.7 deaths and 4.1 injuries per day. This is a daily occurrence.
They happen in homes. In schools. In churches. In movie theatres. In nightclubs. They are senseless. They are shocking. They are sickening. But they are not stopping.
Violence could be avoided when I was a kid. I knew what parts of our small, Midwestern town to avoid. I knew which people were bad news. Trouble couldn’t find me, because I knew where to hide. I don’t know where to tell my kids to hide anymore.
My parental instinct is to protect my children. A part of me wants to have them home as much as possible. All the time would be perfect. But that is not living. That is not realistic. Part of me has been waiting for my leaders to fix this, but it’s starting to feel like that is not realistic, either.
Look, mass shootings are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the gun violence problem in America. Lois Beckett, Rich Harris, Nadja Popovic, Jan Diehm and Mona Chalabi, in a piece published June 21, 2016 by The Guardian, detail a much bigger, much more disturbing picture.
- A firearm death rate of about 10.4 per 100,000 since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control
- Around 33,500 lives lost each year – one every 15 minutes, about the same number of people as are killed on our roads
- Only about 4 percent of deaths are categorized by the CDC as being “unintentional”
- Almost two-thirds of deaths are suicides
- The rest, around 11,000 per year, are homicides
The Guardian also points out that much of the day-to-day gun violence in America happens in its poorest, most racially-segregated neighborhoods, “places with high rates of unemployment, struggling school systems, and high levels of mistrust between police officers and community members.”
Those mass shootings we’re so upset about? They are a tiny sliver at the bottom of a big, scary graph, one you should look at with your own eyes. It is a problem. A gigantic problem with no simple solution.
Do not tell me that we can solve it with more guns.
Do not tell me we can solve it with fewer guns.
Do not tell me we can solve it by making it easier for people to get guns.
Do not tell me we can solve it by making it harder for people to get guns.
Yes, Australia had a successful solution to mass violence, as detailed by John Oliver on The Daily Show, but do not tell me it would work very simply and very well here in the United States.
I don’t have the answers. Right now, nobody does. It’s time to start actually looking. It’s time to give the CDC the ability to study gun violence, just as it does other non-diseases like motor vehicle safety. We want science when deciding whether or not to vaccinate our children or what medicines to take for ourselves. We want science when deciding what kind of diet is best for our families. We want science when deciding the educational path for our children. Why wouldn’t we want science when deciding how to fix this problem?
There was a time when the CDC was allowed to study “the causes of gun violence,” but Todd C. Frankel wrote in The Washington Post back in 2015 that it stopped in 1996, “when the (National Rifle Association) accused the agency of promoting gun control and Congress threatened to strip the agency’s funding.” Frankel said President Barack Obama reversed the CDC research ban after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, but the CDC still did not perform gun-violence research because it “still lacked the dedicated funding to pursue it.”
That needs to change. We have the power of the pen and we have the power of the vote. Write or call your senators and representatives and tell them to get the CDC the funding it needs to study gun violence and, hopefully, come up with some solutions. If they don’t want to comply, vote them out.
Things aren’t getting better. We can’t continue to do what we’ve always done. It’s time to go beyond myopic, partisan arguments and look for real solutions.
More reading on gun violence in the United States:
The math of mass shootings – The Washington Post
The number of ‘mass shootings’ in the U.S. depends on how you count – The Washington Post