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Just like COVID-19, gun violence is a public health crisis

Just like COVID-19, gun violence is a public health crisis
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Last March, we were forced out of schools and jobs and into our homes where we were glued to the news as the COVID-19 pandemic spread like wildfire. Millions were left unable to provide for themselves or their families in the wake of these uncertain times. While fighting this public health crisis, it seemed that the issue of gun violence was put on hold. This however, was not the case. Gun violence coverage took a back seat to COVID-19 and the insurgency of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. While our national focus was elsewhere, the shootings didn’t stop — in 2020 there were more than 600 mass shootings in comparison to 400 from 2019. Just like COVID-19, gun violence is a public health crisis that plagues our communities. Without the proper legislation at the local and national level, gun violence will continue to grow and force us back into our homes once more. 

As the country begins to reopen, we have seen a rapid increase in gun violence. The uncertainty that was brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, has resulted in a record number of gun purchases with sales up 60 percent from 2019 to 2020.  So far, only six months into this year, there have been 225 mass shootings and 18,000 gun related deaths. 

I’m too familiar with the staggering effects of gun violence and how a single, unfortunate moment can change a person’s life.  On Sunday April 21, 2013, I became part of the gun violence prevention movement not by choice, but by circumstance. I was hit by a stray bullet from four blocks away damaging two arteries. When I arrived at the hospital, I wasn’t met with doctors or nurses. I was confronted by police officers about a crime I knew nothing about while lying in the emergency room fighting for my life. By the time I met my surgeon, he told me I had lost so much blood that I only had 26 minutes left to live. I survived that surgery and six others that followed. After 21 days in the hospital and six months of physical therapy, I made a full recovery. I was blessed.

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Far too often we have seen that our communities’ pain and stories don’t make headlines. Since I was shot in 2013, over 800,000 people nationwide have either been shot or killed by guns — and too many of them look like me.

Black people are bearing the brunt of this reality and are more affected by the gun violence that is rooted in our communities. Gun violence disproportionately affects people of color through racially motivated attacks, which subsequently puts minorities at an increased risk of being killed or injured by a firearm. Labeling COVID-19 as the “China virus,” has led to many Asian-Americans being the victims of hate-based violence.  We can’t forget the mass shotting last March in Atlanta, Georgia that left eight people dead, six of which were Asian women and resulting in hate crime charges. These senseless acts are undoubtedly violent and deadly hate-crimes, which a Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism report shows more than doubled in 2019 compared with the previous year. 

Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the U.S., with guns killing more than 38,000 people and causing nearly 85,000 injuries each year. A comprehensive public health strategy is desperately needed to address this crisis and ensure that our families and communities are safe. So far, 2021 is on track to become one of the deadliest years in history for gun violence, it is important that we advocate for legislation that will help the lives of those most affected by these tragedies. Federal legislation, like the Break the Cycle of Violence Act, and state-based legislation that prohibits access to firearms for individuals convicted of domestic and intimate partner violence offenses, must be passed. This is coupled with supporting progressive initiatives like the Biden-Harris administration’s proposed investment of $5 billion over the next eight years to support community violence intervention programs.

We must also urge our leaders to adopt these community-led solutions to curbing gun violence in and around our communities. Across the nation, community violence intervention and prevention programs have been working with those who are most at risk of becoming victims of gun violence or perpetuating it. These specialized programs were created to intervene before a conflict turns violent and are key in dismantling the structures and institutions that fuel gun violence. 

While the gun violence prevention movement has come a long way, this movement’s work is far from over. As we have fought tirelessly together to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is time that we end the public health crisis that is gun violence. We have the collective power to create safer communities and shift away from the violence that we experience today to ensure a better tomorrow and beyond. Now is the time to take true action to honor the lives of those lost.

Greg Jackson is the national advocacy director for Community Justice Action Fund.

This piece has been updated.