No red or blue guns, but an American public health crisis

Reggie Daniels
AP Photo/Eric Gay
Reggie Daniels pays his respects a memorial at Robb Elementary School, Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas, created to honor the victims killed in the recent school shooting. Two teachers and 19 students were killed in the mass shooting.

As we look 23 years in the rearview mirror to Columbine, to Sandy Hook nearly a decade ago, and just four years back to Parkland, the murders of 19 children and two teachers at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, has once again highlighted our inability to deal with mass shootings: 20 more shootings have taken place since that tragic day.

But amid the political food fight from Left and Right corners, do Second Amendment advocates really believe that laws regulating gun access are not relevant? Are there really no gun control advocates who believe in the right to gun ownership for self-defense? Can there be any doubt that solutions must deal with the mental health aspect of gun access and gun ownership? 

As leaders at Common Ground Committee (CGC), with a mission to heal political divides, we call on policymakers, lobbyists, activists and the citizenry to just stop with the emotionally satisfying and politically expedient reactions and start seeking real, effective solutions that set aside the usual talking points.

Ideas like repealing the Second Amendment or arming teachers are non-starters that only encourage more divisiveness. By contrast, we should follow the approach of people like Ryan Busse, a former gun industry executive, who was willing on our podcast to identify what he considers the faults of the gun lobby in his search for a solution.

That’s difficult to do. Gun violence is a highly polarized topic, and much of it has to do with the fervor and stridency with which some Americans defend their Second Amendment rights while others call for weapon bans. Republicans are nearly four times as likely as Democrats to say gun rights are more important than gun control. Similarly, nine in ten Democrats — compared to half of Republicans — favor bans on assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines. 

Yet, despite the stark differences in these views, there is a great deal of common ground in the citizenry on this issue.

Overwhelming majorities of Democrats (91 percent) and Republicans (92 percent) say they strongly favor barring people suffering with mental illnesses from purchasing firearms. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) recently praised gun legislation passed in Florida by then-Gov. Rick Scott. Moreover, large swaths of both Democrats and Republicans — 93 percent and 82 percent respectively — favor making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks.

There are opportunities to drive meaningful policy change, but we first must accept there is no panacea to America’s gun violence problem. We must then acknowledge mass shootings as a public health issue, not a political one. Like for any public health challenge, promoting harm reduction solutions — even when considered by the public as half measures — provides tangible material benefits.

Nicholas Kristoff sums it up well when he points to how we drastically reduced deaths by automobiles. The government didn’t ban cars. Instead, it regulated the industry by enforcing safety features, in spite of cultural resistance to measures like seat belt laws. 

The comparison with vehicular deaths is indeed apt. In 2020, guns surpassed cars as the leading cause of death of children. So, if we want to move the needle, we must seek out two things: fact-based regulation on gun access and ownership, and research-based methods that enable early detection of people on a trajectory to cause harm. Activist groups like Rachel’s Challenge are doing this work and having an impact. Formed after the Columbine High School tragedy, the organization has helped avert eight mass shootings and save 150 lives annually. The Parkland students made a difference too, getting the then Republican Gov. Rick Scott to buck the NRA and sign a sweeping gun bill into law.

At the federal level, after 25 years of the gun lobby quashing attempts to track firearm-related deaths and injuries, new CDC funding into gun violence research and its root causes could lead to similar results. In collaboration with RAND’s National Collaborative on Gun Violence, we already have research analyzing the effectiveness of gun policy. RAND found “moderately good evidence” that expanding background checks could make a difference. 

More data can only yield better regulatory policy and better health outcomes. Examples from past public health scares bear that out. There were 269 National Institute of Health (NIH) research awards granted for Polio from 1973 to 2012, and we saw just 266 cases in that period. For cholera, 212 awards for 400 cases. There have been over 4 million firearm injuries in that 39-year span. The number of NIH research awards for gun-related harm? Three. 

There is a problem, and it has huge stakes. But the path is clear.

We have a duty to meet the moment before us by categorically rejecting political gamesmanship and resisting the temptation to just “do something.” Instead, let’s face up to the hard work that requires careful research and thoughtful consideration to create effective laws that will bring about lasting solutions. Failure to do so means continued acceptance of this unforgivable cost, and another missed opportunity to end this recurring American nightmare.

Bruce Bond, a 30-year veteran of the information technology industry, is co-founder of the Common Ground Committee, a citizen-led initiative focused on demonstrating productive public discourse. Follow him on Twitter @BruceABond

Erik Olsen is co-founder of Common Ground Committee. Follow him on Twitter @ErikOlsen129

Tags Background checks Bipartisan legislation Chris Murphy common ground Gun control debate gun violence Mass shootings in the United States Mental health Public health public health data Public safety Rick Scott Second Amendment

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