One of the biggest epidemics of the past few years is gun violence. We hear it on the news almost every day, another school or mall facing a mass shooting or an abuser taking a gun to their partner’s head. The numbers rise every year and now, each day around 100 people lose their lives to gun violence. Yet, people continue to make gun violence a political issue when it really is a public health issue.
With limited regulation and the lacking gun control system currently implemented in the United States, guns are becoming household objects instead of being acknowledged as lethal weapons of death. 81.4 million Americans own guns, almost a quarter of the nation’s population. In 2021 itself, 18.8 million guns were purchased by Americans. Living in a rural area with bears might account for a need for a gun but do city dwellers with kids really need rifles? It seems rather unnecessary and overbearing, especially when a police force to protect individuals already exists.
Furthermore, as gun ownerships go up, so do the costs associated with gun usage. Every year, over 38,000 people in the United States are killed by guns and an additional 85,000 are injured. These gun deaths occur in homicides, suicides, unintentional shootings, mass shootings, assaults, and police shootings. Guns take lives, pull apart families, increase crime, and contribute to mass incarceration.
Guns contribute to the growing murder rates
The escalation of gun violence over the past few years is clear. After 6 decades of slow increase, murders spiked a shocking 27% in 2020 and continued to increase in number into 2021. The majority of murders can be attributed to gun violence, the gun remains one of the fastest and easiest ways to kill a person. With easy access, durability, and limited government control, firearm ownership is made easy and gun violence is allowed to escalate.
In addition to this, murders of minority groups, cultural and sexual, are more frequent than those of their white counterparts. Minority groups are prone to hate crimes and socioeconomic factors that contribute to high rates of violence in their communities, resulting in a greater rate of gun deaths and murders. In fact, black people are 8 times more likely to be murdered than white people in America and are closely followed by other minorities. Gun violence is not only an issue of public health but also socioeconomic inequality in this nation.
The majority of gun deaths are suicides
Suicides actually make up the largest portion of gun deaths, with around 60% of gun deaths in 2021 being suicides. Providing access to guns to those who are not in a safe mental state and may have suicidal thoughts only exuberates this issue. As guns become more accessible, through personal purchasing and close friends and family owning them, they become more and more of an appealing option to those looking to take their lives quickly.
Some will argue that even if gun access is limited people will find other ways to commit suicide. Though this is true, gun-based suicides have a much higher chance of leading to death than other approaches. 90% of those who attempt to commit suicide and fail do not try again, but with gun-based suicides, it is much harder to fail a suicide attempt. Therefore, limiting gun access in general while simultaneously supporting public mental health can decrease suicide rates on the first attempts themselves.
Letting the wrong people own guns leads to mass shootings
Perhaps the most severe outcomes of gun accessibility in the United States, mass shootings have become a dangerous norm in this nation. We open our news to a new school shooting daily from Sandy Hook to more recent shootings such as those at Seminole High School in Maryland and Oxford High School in Michigan. We hear about our local malls facing shooting threats and incidents at popular theaters. Mass shootings occur all around us.
In 2021, there were 693 mass shootings that devastatingly took lives all over the country. In these mass shootings, often one individual in a poor mental state has access to a gun. They are as young as students of the schools or older individuals with mental illnesses. Often, they are not foreigners but locals with easy access to guns. Decreasing gun accessibility and improving community mental health services once again go hand in hand in addressing situations like these.
Gun violence can escalate assault
Gun violence doesn’t always lead to death but it can still contribute significantly to assault, crime, and disability. Different types of violent behaviors often occur together and are concentrated in the same areas. If an area is prone to gun violence, it is also typically prone to domestic violence, child abuse, and assault. In fact, a woman is 5 times more likely to be murdered if her abuser has access to a gun in cases of domestic violence and assault. Guns escalate these already risky situations and pose grave threats to the vulnerable, specifically children and women.
Police brutality contributes to gun violence in minority communities
It is next to impossible to discuss gun violence in America without discussing police brutality. The prison and policing system in this country is one of the deadliest in the world and 1000 Americans are shot and killed by the police every year, many more left injured. Of those prone to police violence, black people and indigenous communities are at the highest risk. They are over 3 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than white people in America, making violent police force by guns one of the biggest threats to these minority communities.
Addressing gun violence through legislation and social discussion
Owning a gun is a responsibility that goes beyond the 2nd amendment rights, it requires competence, good judgment, and a strong sense of morality. It should require background checks and licenses, accompanied by safety counseling given to all those who are allowed to acquire guns. Combating police brutality means limiting access to guns and barring the unnecessary use of firearms and guns by law enforcement, teaching de-escalation through nonviolent methods instead.
The Biden Administration has started taking some political action to address gun violence, helping pass bills through Congress to address loopholes in gun background checks in the spring of 2021, and currently pushing for more legislation that can tighten gun laws. Some of these include “red flag laws” that bar those in crisis who pose a risk to themselves or others from owning funs. Others ban ghost guns, guns that can be self-assembled from kits, and escape tracking.
Addressing gun violence will also require socioeconomic change, since racial disparities, health inequalities, and educational limitations in minority communities remain large contributors to a culture of violence. We must take political action against gun accessibility and social action against cultures of gun violence to truly address the crisis that guns pose to the health of this nation.