Shyama Venkateswar Distinguished Lecturer, Hunter College and Director, Public Policy Program, Roosevelt House

Posted on October 9, 2015 · Posted in Frank Friday

Mass killings in the United States are now so commonplace that we barely skip a beat before going back to business as usual. News about our dysfunctional Congress dominate the headlines until there’s one more report of an incomprehensible mass killing at yet another school, college campus, church, movie theater, or military base. Even after all these horrific incidents, Americans refuse to believe that our high rate of gun violence is not just a terrible law and order problem, but a grave public health crisis as well.

Civilians in the United States own 300 million pieces of firearms, including nearly 100 million handguns, and the number of firearms owned rises 10 million annually. In 2015 alone, there have been 40,398 incidents of gun violence in the United States, resulting in 10,185 deaths. The number of children aged 1-11 killed or injured was 560. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ report on U.S. state-by-state gun ownership shows that the average household gun ownership rate in the U.S. is 32%. Regionally, gun ownership is more common in the South (54%) and Midwest (51%) than in the East (36%) or West (43%). Middle-aged adult men with no college education are more likely to be gun owners.

A report on state-by-state deaths related to guns shows the following states as having the highest rate of gun deaths in the country: Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Montana, Wyoming, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Tennessee. Not surprisingly, these states also have a much higher rate of gun ownership than the national average.

Even the Centers for Disease Control, the nation’s federal public health institute that tracks global epidemics, makes recommendations for immunization and provides safety tips for travelers and guidelines for securing global public health, does not fully report on gun-related violence. This is because in the mid-1990s, the NRA helped push through legislation preventing CDC from funding any scientific research that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” Research on gun ownership and violence continues to be stifled as a result of “fear and funding shortfalls.” Congress quietly extended the ban on the CDC in the aftermath of the killings in Charleston, South Carolina in the summer.

We need laws that actually work and take care of our communities. Research has found that states with background check laws tend to also have fewer gun homicides and suicides, a conclusion supported by other investigations into rates of gun violence. Criminal background checks, mental health reports, requiring gun registration, mandatory waiting periods, banning ownership of military-grade weapons, and eliminating gun show loopholes are all sensible policies. These types of laws don’t violate the spirit of the Second Amendment or undermine gun enthusiasts’ rights to collect guns or decrease the pleasure of those who choose to hunt for sport. Safeguarding our nation from gun violence is our collective responsibility, and our Congress’s silence on this very serious issue is unacceptable.

The writing and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute or Hunter College.