Pictured are members of a crowd at a gun violence rally. One sign is visible with the word "Enough".
Government, Gun Violence, Public Health

Gun violence...again and again

August 5, 2019 |5:57 min read

Another bad weekend leaves scores of people dead and injured, a country stunned

August 3: 22 people were killed and 24 more injured at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. The victims were all ages, including infants, children and young to middle-aged adults. Gun was AK-47-type assault rifle, reportedly purchased legally.

August 4: Near Ned Peppers Bar in the Oregon District of Dayton, Ohio, 9 people were killed and 27 injured. Like the Walmart shooting, the victims predominantly were young to middle-aged adults. The .223 caliber gun used reportedly was modified to function as a high-capacity rifle, also said to have been purchased legally.

Note: Links embedded in dates above lead to incident reports in Gun Violence Archive.

It’s just a few weeks until the start of the school year; it was the weekend, and a lot of people around the country were doing ordinary things like shopping and eating out.  Parents are trying to get everything checked off their children’s school supply lists.

On weekends, especially, we do things to prepare for the week ahead, when there will be no time to spare. It’s the irony of going about one’s business that is so unnerving; we are doing what we need to do – shopping, studying, working, keeping our appointments, and what we like to do – eating out, socializing, attending religious services, movies, concerts and festivals. We should not have to think twice about these activities. They should be the unremarkable stuff of everyday life. Ordinary things. When I say that, I know that my view is also a privileged view. There are many neighborhoods in the U.S. where parents can’t let their children hang out in front of their apartments and homes for fear they will be shot. In the Gun Violence Archive, I noticed that a shooting over the weekend had taken place in the Bronx near where my mother grew up.

I talked with a friend from India yesterday. I asked where a regular person can buy a gun in India. She said they can’t. They just can’t buy one. And that’s the case in many countries around the world. And they sure could not buy assault rifles. I heard a show on NPR Sunday afternoon on understanding the scale of gun violence in America; Mark Bryant, CEO of the Gun Violence Archive, was talking about how people buy those guns and then amp them up so they can do even more. Who needs even more death, destruction, carnage, devastating injuries and destroyed families? Are we really the civilized country we think we are?

To members of the NRA: I am not saying ban all guns. We should ban and buy back assault rifles to get them off the street, to make it much more difficult to kill 31 people and injure 51 others in one weekend. Ordinary people don’t need assault rifles.

I’ve said it before, and I know I’ll say it again. This wanton killing and injuring is a public health problem. Here’s what our country looks like right now in terms of gun violence (see map below from Gun Violence Archive).

This crisis won’t be solved only by trying to change the individual behaviors of at-risk individuals, although that is important. Gun violence, as various reviews have shown, must be dealt with on a societal level, on a national basis and not state by state. It will take courageous people to pass courageous policies. I’m beginning to wonder if there are enough courageous senators and congressional representatives to make a difference. Over decades, when push has come to shove, the votes haven’t been there, but as gun violence grows, maybe this will be the time people finally say enough. It is enough!

By legitimizing hate speech and refusing to advance policies that the majority of Americans support, the president is making the divisions in our country into deep schisms and gorges. No one wants to live in a world where decisions about everyday activities like shopping, eating out or just going for a walk on a downtown street must be weighed against the very real prospect that one’s life could be tragically altered, or even ended, in by random gunfire. While the probability is generally low that any one individual will be killed or injured in a mass shooting, the probability is not zero. Blaming video games and mental illness is a cowardly dodge and shows a profound lack of courage on the part of our leadership to tackle the one thing that separates our country from every other country in the world that also has video games and similar rates of mental illness: the shockingly easy access to guns and ammunition. On behalf of the American Psychological Association (APA), President Rosie Phillips Davis, PhD, released a statement yesterday that includes the following:

Routinely blaming mass shootings on mental illness is unfounded and stigmatizing. Research has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness. The rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them. One critical factor is access to, and the lethality of, the weapons that are being used in these crimes. Adding racism, intolerance and bigotry to the mix is a recipe for disaster. 

If we want to address the gun violence that is tearing our country apart, we must keep our focus on finding evidence-based solutions. This includes restricting access to guns for people who are at risk for violence and working with psychologists and other experts to find solutions to the intolerance that is infecting our nation and the public dialogue.

Until we start addressing root causes, these tragedies will continue indefinitely. Our representatives in both houses of Congress must join the majority of people in this country in standing up – to the president, the NRA, misguided defenders of the Second Amendment and white nationalists – for what is right and demanding action to end this epidemic. The American Public Health Association (APHA) has issued a clear call to action for lawmakers. This is the right thing to do; this is public health.

August 8, 2019, update: The Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) yesterday issued a press release

…calling on U.S. federal legislators to urgently pass five gun safety measures to reduce the number of people killed or injured from gun violence in the United States. CUGH is calling on the public to effect change by making gun control a signature issue in the 2020 federal election. Voters can support candidates who will vote for effective gun control measures. Healthcare workers, who see up close the devastating effects of gun violence, have a particular opportunity to inform their patients about the importance of voting for candidates who will vote for gun safety legislation. CUGH is calling on the global health community to stand together and support candidates who will prioritize public safety and vote for gun control.

The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.

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The views expressed in this blog are Barbara Rimer’s alone and do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina or the Gillings School.