By Brigid Tray
Just 10 days after a horrific, racially-motivated terrorist attack at a Buffalo grocery store, our nation experienced yet another mass shooting, this time at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
The Uvalde massacre is part of an ever-present wave of gun violence washing over the United States; more than 100 people die by gun violence in the U.S. every day. As grim as that number is, the number of people injured by guns is even more staggering: for every one person who dies by a firearm, two survive.
Gun culture has infiltrated the safety of our homes and communities, our grocery stores, movie theaters, hospitals and schools, leaving us grieving and angry, as the majority of Americans plead for change.
Though the National Rifle Association has attempted to thwart gun control research, we have the statistics to support which policies have helped and which haven’t. For example, states with more gun control laws have lower levels of gun violence, after controlling for other factors, according to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. States with Child Access Prevention laws (CAP laws) that increased the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony experienced a decline in the rate of unintentional firearm deaths for children up to 14 years old.
In 2020, gun related deaths became the leading cause of death among children in the U.S. Every day, more American children die from gun violence than do on-duty police officers and active duty military. These deaths are preventable; this is not a fact of life we must accept quietly in evermore-common moments of silence as we mark each new national tragedy.
More violence is not the answer to violence.
More violence is not the answer to violence. Studies show that violence in the community and at home reduces academic and developmental outcomes in children. Children who have experienced violence may already be struggling with post-traumatic stress, and a school environment in which they are constantly exposed to weapons will not encourage learning and growth, according to a study published by the American Counseling Association.
Besides being an unhealthy environment for children, we have seen that armed guards and police presence do not provide the protection we may have hoped for. An armed guard was present at both Parkland and Buffalo, and police may have incorrectly assessed the situation in Uvalde, allowing 19 children to be murdered while police waited outside the building.
Additionally, adding more guns to the mix only increases the odds that a gun accident will occur. More than 100 incidents of mishandled, legally-carried guns occurred in the past five years in American schools, according to the Giffords Law Center. The answer is not to arm teachers and staff or to expose children to firefights- but to stop the violence before it occurs by limiting access to weapons.
A factor often cited as a cause for gun violence is mental health- but how do we address this?
An environment that supports the reporting of concerning behaviors and offers easily accessible intervention and follow-up is a start. Red flag laws, or Extreme Risk laws, allow family members to report warning signs to law enforcement to reduce access to firearms by the person in crisis. Connecticut saw a 14% reduction in firearm suicide rates and Indiana a 7.5% reduction following enforcement of its Extreme Risk laws, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. (See the gun registration requirements, or lack thereof, for each U.S. state here.)
Do not let those who are profiting from violence keep us from safeguarding the most vulnerable members of our society.
We can use the public health approach toward traffic safety as a model for gun safety. We require training and licensing to operate a motor vehicle; we register vehicles and require yearly safety checks. We require license renewal, and if you are found to be driving drunk or operating a vehicle illegally, your license is revoked. These are common sense approaches that have reduced per-mile driving deaths by 80% from 1967 to 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Change is possible if we can learn from previous successes and find the will to apply these lessons to our gun-violence epidemic; but the NRA and other organizations with an interest in gun sales are working to stifle the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly support gun safety and common sense gun reform, so that they can control the narrative and continue to profit off gun culture.
I am sure you do not support violence. Do not let those who are profiting from violence keep us from safeguarding the most vulnerable members of our society. Do not let bad faith politicians distract you with divisive culture-war topics.
We must join together to solve the problems that are demonstrably harming our children and our communities, support common sense gun reform, and demand that our leaders, both local and national, do the same.
Brigid Tray is an NCC alum, class of ’07. She is a health educator and strategic wellness consultant at Lehigh Valley Health Network. She holds a Master of Public Health degree from East Stroudsburg University.
(Editor’s note: Twenty-one mass shootings have occurred in the U.S. since the time the author wrote this editorial. America’s most recent mass shootings saw five people killed at a medical center in Tulsa, and at least five people injured at a funeral in Wisconsin.)