How do we reduce gun-related deaths in 2016?
By Sandy Zavla
As 2015 came to a close, I found myself pondering the usual questions. How can 2016 improve on 2015? What lessons can we embrace going forward about life, love and the pursuit of happiness?
As a wife, mother and family cheerleader, my boys and I remain dedicated to health, fitness and spending quality time with each other. By no means are these goals idealistic or unattainable. On the other hand, an unsettling political legacy from 2015 remains hotly debated. In light of President Obama’s executive orders on gun control, I examine whether the personal safety and security of my family is truly intact.
This past year there were more gun deaths from mass shootings than days in the year. Some assert that the shooters in these incidents were either terrorists or mentally ill. This faction concludes that the malicious intent of the shooter is the issue that must be regulated, not the actual firearm. Others propose that the increased regulation of firearms is the only responsible recourse to an increasing loss of human life that could have otherwise been prevented.
Here are the numbers as reported by UNODC Statistics, Gun Violence Archive, Mass Shooting Tracker and Everytown Research. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012, there have been 161 school shootings (this number includes all incidents where firearms were discharged). This year 12,223 people were killed in gun incidents and 24,722 were injured. In 2012, 60 percent of homicides in the United States were due to firearms while only 31 percent in Canada, 18.2 percent in Australia and 10 percent in Great Britain were carried out by guns.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Council on Foreign Affairs, an average of 517 people died annually from acts of terrorism from 2001 through 2011 (this does not include figures from 9/11). When the U.S. government spends more than a trillion dollars a year defending our borders against terrorism but permits almost 24 times the casualties from domestic firearm incidents, it is clear something must change.
Dr. David Hemenway, professor of Public Health at Harvard, states that an average American is 10 times more likely to be killed with a gun than their French, Canadian and Australian counterparts. Drs. Phillip Cook and Matthew Miller, professors of Public Policy and Epidemiology at Duke and Northeastern University, both agree that in areas where there are higher gun ownership, there are more suicides and homicides. Miller points to several studies demonstrating that well-meaning individuals who choose to keep guns in their home are at higher risk for gun casualties.
How do the numbers reconcile with our Second Amendment constitutional right to bear arms? Does our constitutional right to personal liberty supersede the responsibility that our elected officials have to create collective safety and security for our entire citizenry? Alan Singer of Hofstra University offers intriguing ideas through his constitutional analysis.
The Preamble of the Constitution affirms that providing for the common defense to achieve domestic tranquility and secure the blessings of liberty is the highest goal of our nation. The Second Amendment states, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
Singer puts forth that the Constitution authorizes Congress to regulate the use of firearms and determine who can use them. Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”
Are the legions of gun control activists overanalyzing this? Our individual freedom, statehood and nationhood as Americans are impenetrable certainties despite the efforts of terrorists to annihilate our way of life. Does this make the necessity to bear arms an outdated and irrelevant assertion? Does the constitutional wording “a well-regulated militia” unequivocally establish that the only individuals who have the right to bear arms are law enforcement officers? You be the judge.
Either way, the loss of innocent lives should not be tolerated. Not in 2016. Not in the greatest country in the world.
President Obama’s recent executive order to expand background checks for gun show and online purchases is a necessary catalyst in the right direction. Along with increased funding for mental health programs and boosting the ranks of Tobacco and Firearms agents, expanded background checks can help implement existing state laws while closing the gap on more permissive state laws.
Will these policies prevent every tragedy? Regrettably they won’t. What matters is that some lives can be saved. Every life spared is a victory over the senseless deaths perpetrated by the failure of existing gun legislation.
Sandy Zavala is a partner, parent, former healthcare educator, social worker and counselor who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.