Some editorials are just too painful to write. This is one.
At least 19 elementary school children and two teachers are dead, many more are injured, and a grandmother is fighting for her life in Uvalde, Tex., all because a young man, armed with an AR-15-stylerifle, decided to fire in a school.
These facts are now known: This was the largest school shooting in the past seven years. The killer was not immediately captured by law enforcement. It’s very easy to buy and openly possess a gun . in Texas. Within hours of the shooting, President Biden demanded reform , once more. Legislators demanded reform , once more. Progun politicians turned to weathered talking point arm teachers and build safer school.
Rather than arming teachers (who have enough to handle without having to keep the gun from students , and training like law enforcement to confront an attacker with armed force), we need to make it harder for people to buy guns. Especially the kind of weapons used by this killer and the white supremacist who killed 10 people grocery shopping in Buffalo. And we need to put a lasting stop to the political obstruction of taxpayer-funded research into gun-related injuries and deaths.
The science is clear: More guns do not stop crime . Guns kill more children each year than auto accidents. More children die by gunfire in a year than on-duty police officers and active military members. Guns are a public health crisis, just like COVID, and in this, we are failing our children, over and over again.
In the U.S., we have existing infrastructure that we could easily emulate to make gun use safer: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Created by Congress in 1970, this federal agency is tasked, among other things, with helping us drive a car safely. It gathers data on automobile deaths. It’s the agency that monitors and studies seat belt usage. We do not track gun-related deaths.
During the early 1990s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began to explore gun violence as a public health issue. After studies tied having a firearm to increased homicide risk, the National Rifle Association took action, spearheading the infamous Dickey Amendment, diverting gun research dollars and preventing federal funding from being used to promote gun control. For more than 20 years, research on gun violence in this country has been hard to do.
Our research is clear and revealing. For example, in 2017, guns overtook 60 years of cars as the biggest injury-based killer of children and young adults (ages one to 24) in the U.S. By 2020, about eight in every 100,000 people died of car crashes. About 10 in every 100,000 people died of gun injuries.
While cars have become safer (it’s one the main talking points of the auto industry’s marketing these days), the gun lobby has stopped nearly all attempts to make firing a weapon more difficult. With federal protection against some lawsuits, the financial incentive of a giant tort payout to make guns safer is virtually nonexistent.
After Uvalde’s murders, the attorney General of Texas, Ken Paxton , stated that he would “rather have law-abiding citizens arm and trained so they can respond to when something like this happens.” These two conservatives are just two of many who believe more guns are the key to reducing gun crime. They are wrong.
A study comparing gun deaths the U.S. to other high-income countries in Europe and Asia tells us that our homicide rate in teens and young adults is 49 times higher. Eight times more firearm suicides are recorded in the United States. The United States has more guns than any other country in the comparison.
As we previously reported, in 2015, assaults with a firearm were 6.8 times more common in states that had the most guns, compared to the least. More than a dozen studies have revealed that if you had a gun at home, you were twice as likely to be killed as someone who didn’t. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health tells us that states with higher gun ownership levels have higher rates of homicide. Data even tells us that where gun shops or gun dealers open for business, killings go up. These are just a few examples of studies that contradict the progun politicians’ claims. Science must not be ignored.
Science points to laws that would work to reduce shootings, to lower death. Better permitting laws that leave fewer loopholes would be the best. When Missouri repealed its permit law, gun-related killings increased by 25 percent. Another option would be to prohibit people convicted of violent crimes from purchasing a gun. In California, before the state passed such a law, people convicted of crimes were almost 30 percent more likely to be arrested again for a gun or violent crime than those who, after the law, couldn’t buy a gun.
Such laws, along with red flag laws and laws that take guns from domestic abusers or people who abuse alcohol, could help lower the nation’s gun violence rate. It would require elected officials not to be involved in the gun lobby. There are many issues to consider when voting. However, in this election year, we believe that gun violence protection is something that voters can really advance. Surveys routinely show that gun control measures are extremely popular with the U.S. population.
In the interim, there is hope. Congress restored funding for gun-related research in 2019, and there are researchers now looking at ways to reduce gun deaths. It’s not clear if this funding change is permanent. And what we’ve lost is 20 years of data on gun injuries, death, safety measures and a score of other things that could make gun ownership in this country safer.
Families whose lives are forever changed by gun violence will be a stark reminder of this. We must all mourn the loss of children and adults in domestic violence, accidental deaths, and mass shootings. These are all so common that we still grieve each one.
We need to be a country that sees guns as what they really are: weapons that kill. Treat them with the same respect that demands they be more difficult to obtain and safer to use.
And then we need to become the kind of country that says the lives of children are more valuable tha