I don’t get it. Columbine. Virginia. Sandy Hook. Colorado. Twin Peaks restaurant near Waco. Oregon. San Bernadino. Orlando. Calling it terrorism or calling it mental illness-related violence or calling it a random act of shooting is plainly side-stepping the issue. When the second amendment was written into the constitution, there was probably lawlessness and every person probably had to bear arms for self-protection, and the weapons of those days didn’t cause as much damage as they can do in this technologically advanced day. This amendment is not necessary now. It’s very much possible to feel safe without owning a gun. Just ask anyone living in one of the 68% American households without guns.
If we want to hear everyone’s views, let’s have a grassroots level conversation on what makes someone feel safe because of owning a gun vs. what makes someone feel safe without owning a gun. With great freedom comes great responsibility. To me, gun ownership comes with the following responsibilities at a minimum. 1. The owner will be self-aware, manage himself or herself, and use good judgment at all times. For example, it is not okay to get angry at something and pull out the gun. It’s also not okay to shoot someone for the slightest offence and claim self-defense. 2. The owner will maintain good mental health for the duration of gun ownership and not turn it against oneself or those around. 3. The owner will observe safety practices with respect to storage and handling around children. 4. The owner will maintain sufficient skills and competencies so that when the owner does need to use the gun, he or she will not miss the mark and shoot the wrong person instead. 5. The owner will seek counseling or healthcare as needed and potentially turn in the gun should there be a deterioration of mental health or loss of skills. 6. The owner will stay educated on all the best practices around gun safety at all times.
As a safety, prevention and healthcare improvement professional, I find it appalling that there are no nationwide public health surveillance data and reports related to gun violence. We are good at using surveillance reports on infections to improve infection rates in hospitals and communities through planning, design, and implementation of interventions and tracking and trending of data to study effectiveness of interventions. Why not take the same approach to gun related safety events and deaths? In fact, there is a legal prohibition on using federal funds to conduct gun safety research. That goes against every notion of American society being a progressive society.
We need a nationwide acknowledgement that gun violence is a public health problem and we need to go all out to address it. Right now, most of my data sources are from news media which are filling the vacuum created by lack of data collection based on sound scientific principles. Per my news sources whose veracity I have no reason to doubt, the USA has by far and away the highest levels of gun ownership – some 88.8 guns per 100 people in 2012. The next closest country is Yemen, with 54.8 per 100 people. This translates into another remarkable statistic – 4.4% of the world’s population live in America, but 42% of civilian-owned guns across the world are found in the USA. There are 20-30 gun homicides in the US every year. That’s over eight thousand lives lost to guns per year.
In 2014, Joe Nocera and Jennifer Mascia ran The Gun Report, a New York times blog that was a daily statement on gun violence in America. Why did their blog run its course? Having data and awareness are necessary but not sufficient. It’s important to do something about the data. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Limiting ownership of semi-automatic weapons alone is not enough. Performing background checks or even mental health assessment at the time of buying a gun is not enough. Increasing gun ownership isn’t going to solve the problem either.