The never-ending news reports of gun violence are numbing. But turning our backs out of a sense of helplessness at so many shootings makes us more vulnerable, not safer. We should cry out — every day — for solutions.
Pay attention — close attention — to what has happened just in the past week.
As of midday on Tuesday, the Cook County medical examiner’s office had logged more than 1,000 homicides in a calendar year for the first time in 27 years. Most of those homicides were caused by guns.
On the very same day, in Oxford Township, Michigan, a school shooting took four students’ lives. Seven others were wounded. It was the 651st mass shooting in America this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. By Thursday, the number was up to 652.
Think about that: 652 mass shootings — almost two per day. And almost a month remains in the year.
Like other perilous plagues to be feared, guns are saturating our communities. The 15-year-old Michigan suspect’s father apparently bought the gun used in the shooting on the day after Thanksgiving, which appears to be November’s busiest day for gun sales. The holiday buying spree came as gun ownership has soared this year. Americans have purchased more than 18 million guns in 2021, the second most in at least two decades.
Here’s why it’s easy to feel numb and helpless: The bloodbath in Michigan wasn’t the only school shooting on Tuesday. One person was fatally shot and others were injured later Tuesday at a Humboldt, Tennessee, high school. That brought the number of school shootings this year to 29, according to Education Week. Just the day before, a student in Arizona allegedly shot a fellow student in school during the sale of a “ghost gun,” a self-assembled weapon that can’t be traced.
Grim toll continues to rise
Instead of preventing those shootings, we are a nation where active-shooter safety drills in schools have become commonplace. That is no answer.
The tragic level of gun violence in America is a scourge that exists in no other high-income nation. No American school is safe. Nor are the streets.
Last weekend, three people were shot dead and 26 were shot and wounded in Chicago. On Monday, nine more people were shot. On Tuesday, seven more people were shot. On Wednesday, 10 people more were shot, three fatally.
Meanwhile, the number of police officers killed nationally in 2021 in August passed the total from all of 2020. The shootings continue. Just on Wednesday night, a Chicago police officer was shot and injured on the South Side.
More than 19,000 Americans have been killed by guns this year, not counting suicides. Add in suicides, and the number tops 41,000. Many of those who use guns to commit suicide would have survived had guns not been available.
“The public is recognizing this is a huge problem that affects all of us no matter where you live,” Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago Crime Lab, told us. “I hope we will mobilize a lot more constructive policy than we have seen recently.”
Focus on prevention
On Monday, the journal JAMA Pediatrics, citing new research, reported that gun violence disproportionately impacts young people who live in low-income counties. Reducing disparities in income can reduce gun violence.
Some signs are encouraging. On the day of the Michigan school shooting, the Los Angeles City Council banned ghost guns. And President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation includes $5 billion for community violence intervention, programs designed to reduce and interrupt shootings.
It’s not enough, but it’s a sign the nation is looking for ways to address violence without relying so heavily as it did in the past on criminal justice solutions, which can cause their own injustices. The focus should be on prevention.
Some states, including Illinois, also are setting aside money for violence intervention. Illinois also has passed some gun safety measures, such as gun dealer licensing and strengthening the Firearm Owners Identification card program; that should help.
To look away from gun violence is to look away from our collective safety. It is to play into the hands of the gun lobby, whose goal is to maximize gun sales. It is to allow timid lawmakers to sit on their hands.
No matter how frequent the shootings, how loud the gunfire sounds on the street, it’s dangerous to shrug off gun violence just because it has become so common. The cost in lives, injuries and economic loss affect us all.
If shootings are not checked, the barrel of gun violence will point at every American.
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