This editorial was published by the Dallas Morning News.
As the murdered children of Uvalde are laid to rest this week, our nation needs to muster the courage and political will to treat rising gun violence and mass shootings as an acute public health crisis.
When auto accidents claimed a large number of lives, government and industry dollars funded research to make cars safer, leading to seat belts, airbags and other now standard safety features. Public health studies that linked smoking to cancer, lung disease and other health risks changed smoking habits. Subsequent legal action held tobacco companies responsible for having hidden the health risks associated with their products.
The Second Amendment protects gun ownership in America. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the individual right to own guns in the Heller decision. In that same ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia also noted that “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited” and that “the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
Federal dollars are slowly returning to gun violence research after more than two decades on the sidelines due to fears that scientific study would lead to gun control. But gun violence research is funded at about $63 per life lost, making it the second-most-neglected major cause of death, according to a 2017 estimate in the Journal of the American Medical Association. While mass shootings at schools rightly spotlight the need for school security, more young people have died from gun violence of all kinds than car crashes, which are second, and drug overdoses, which are third.
But as a nation, we need to know more about gun violence. A research letter in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that firearm-related deaths increased 13% between 2019 and 2020, with the biggest jump — a stunning 30% — occurring among those under 19 years of age. And of the 45,222 deaths from gun violence in 2020, roughly 10% were children and teenagers.
But here’s the shocker. Roughly 65% of gun deaths among adults were suicides and 30% were homicides. However, among teens and younger Americans, those percentages are roughly flipped, the statistics show.
The nation needs to increase mental health investments and pass sensible gun safety regulations at the federal and state levels. Public support exists for background checks, age limits on weapons purchases, red flag laws and mandatory training for firearm owners. Most of all, the nation has to break the cycle of violence, and a more rigorous examination of gun deaths and injuries as a public health crisis will allow researchers to better determine how to prevent such deaths.
Families and communities wracked by gun violence are forever broken, and the rest of us share their grief and fear that a gunman could mete out carnage on our families and friends. As a society, we must not allow this carnage to persist.
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