gun violence

Millenial Thomas H. Weil proposes absolutely necessary steps we need to take to address the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. 

“Gun” is a word now so divisive that many people walk away from conversations at the mere mention of it.  However, this is not an issue we can ignore.  Based on recent data, 93 people a day in the United States, or 34,000 people a year, die because a firearm is discharged, and twice as many people are injured. There have been 216 school shootings since 2013.  The most common source of both “self-harm” and of “interpersonal violence” is the use of a gun; self-harm ranks 6th and inter-personal violence ranks 12th in years of life lost prematurely in the United States, just behind road injury (5th) but ahead of breast cancer, preterm birth complications, drug use disorders, chronic kidney disease, pancreatic, kidney, kidney, prostate, brain and liver cancers, and AIDS.

American politicians cannot deny that violence with a gun is one of the biggest issues facing our nation. Yet, strangely, no reasonable solution has been reached.   Theatre, nightclub, school, and home shootings arose concern and curiosity, but quickly recede from political view, even if the communities in which they occur have open wounds..  This is why a simple, locally based, safety oriented, apolitical approach is required.  Perhaps if we approached this issue as a health care crisis, one of equal consequence as heart disease or breast cancer in which lives are at stake, we might find more common ground. There are lives we could be saving without a major shift in the system. Here are a few ideas.

While not a major contributor to gun mortality rates, firearm incidents at the home are a concern for parents and neighborhoods everywhere. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, living in a home with a firearm can increase the chance of homicide by 170 percent. Also, 7 million children live in a home with an unlocked firearm. Of the 93 people who are killed through use of a gun each day, 7 are children.   This is why, by government mandate, every citizen should have to own a government-approved (based on specific, universal standards) safe of an appropriate size to be capable of storing the particular gun an owner possesses. Likewise, an initial purchase must be preceded by an attendance at a one hour seminar on gun safety in the home.

 Another step we must take is a revamp to background checks. In most states, a six page form and a short waiting period is all a citizen, without a criminal record, needs to complete to buy a gun. While some argue that any control on access is an unconstitutional restriction of gun “rights,” a commanding 85 percent of Americans support background checks.  Many say that the problem is not guns, but the mentally ill, and because of this there must be a uniform process to ensure that those with mental illness have no access to guns.  We need a background check system that includes an assessment process, administered by a healthcare professional, to ensure that applicants have the physical and mental capability to handle a gun safety; and that assessments in one state are accessible by every state and US territory. This move could potentially save the lives of gun users or hypothetical victims, and would most likely be supported on both sides of the political spectrum.

Inner city crime, an issue for decades, cannot be solved by one bill. Through both the regular and the black markets, one can acquire firearms with astonishing ease. In Chicago, 93 percent of the 478 homicides in 2015 were by gunshot, with a large majority of victims being adults in poor neighborhoods. Some of these deaths could be avoided, as many die with first responders only minutes away. This is why, with the help of what I will call a “good friend” government mandate, gun retailers and local health care providers distribute first aid kits at an affordable price, both to local residents who request them, as well as place them in all public buildings and business, just at automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) are now, across our nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas. This aspect of my plan would likely receive the most backlash. I could see opponents tweeting that this will simply promote more shootings.  However, gun violence will not end anytime soon.  Wide distribution of a simple first aid kit could potentially save lives.

Finally, let us consider the black market. It may not be possible to eliminate the black market for guns, but it is possible, on a local level, to limit it.

My final proposal is to create a system within every local governmental unit (town or county, for example), where each gun owning citizen would have to register and then return once each year with the firearm to demonstrate proof of continued ownership of the same weapon or demonstrated proof of sale, with identification of the new owner. 

This measure, I believe, would reduce the capabilities of people to sell guns and reduce the black marketplace, as failure to comply would represent a class A misdemeanor (punishable by fine greater than the retail or contraband value of the firearm in question); or in the setting of repeat offence, a felony conviction.  This does not restrict the ability to legally own a gun, nor to continue to own it, in any way, but rather ensures that the guns in our community are safe and secure as property of their rightful owners.  It is no more onerous than other similar duties as a citizen such as paying taxes or owning proper identification. Actions like these minimize the risk of what is know as “The Tragedy of The Commons”, and keep our communities safe and efficient.

Gun violence is an issue that cannot be solved by a few bills in Congress, but helping the United States overcome this public health care scourge by making the unacceptable use of guns against others a public debate can. We need an approach that is at the same time simple and workable. I believe this is one way to start saving lives, and that the US Congress needs address this for the future of the 30,000 people who die needless each year.

Thomas Weil was a Yale Young Global Scholar in 2016.

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