The Numbers behind a Killing Issue in our Nation: Gun Violence
In 2020, gun violence was the deadliest in the previous decades, but by 2021, it grew even more (Thebault et al., 2021).
In this article, I aim to provide statistics on the prevalence of gun violence and its effects in our nation.
What is the statistics behind this deteriorating issue in our country?
There are 41,000 Americans that die from gun violence each year. America has the most guns, 393 million, but the weakest gun laws. In fact, one study by a Switzerland report found that the U.S. holds less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet has 46 percent of the world’s civilian guns (Masters, 2021). Americans are 25 times more likely to die of gun violence than other high-income country residents. Below is a graph to depict gun deaths among leading high-income countries (Gifford Law Center, n.d.).
Source: Gifford Law Center
The U.S. vs other rich countries
In the U.S. there are still laws and barriers to buying guns, such as background checks and categories of people who are not allowed to obtain a gun. But, background checks are not very strict, as they are underfunded, understaffed, and under-resourced. If a background check was deemed inconclusive, it is extended to three more business days for further investigation. Once those three days pass, the buyer can legally buy without a completed background check. This allows people who should not have guns to obtain them. In fact, this is exactly what happened in the mass killing of nine people at a predominantly Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Furthermore, even with a local strict gun law, it is possible for most buyers to move to a different state or city to purchase a gun where the laws are a lot less strict. In fact, private sales don’t even require background checks, creating a loophole in our country. We can look at our country’s gun laws compared to other countries.
Canada, for example, allows for guns to be accessible to the general population, but there are major restrictions on the different types of guns that can be purchased, the individuals who are buying, and the method of purchase. Most handguns are prohibited, while some handguns are restricted, and regular and military-style shotguns and rifles are non-restricted. In other words, the types of guns that are deemed more dangerous have more restrictions. There is a license requirement for all gun and ammunition owners, which has to be renewed every 5 years, and there is a safety course test that all buyers must pass. Along with the test and background checks, a third-party referral must be submitted as the buyer’s reference. Different from the U.S., Canada implements a law that requires safe gun storage, where the guns are unloaded.
Another country, the United Kingdom has some of the lowest gun deaths in the world, which is explainable with their some of the most strictest gun laws. Military-style weapons are prohibited, while handguns are banned. Buyers must have a “good reason” for purchase of guns, such as job requirements or sports. The important difference is that “self-defense” is not considered a “good reason” for purchasing a gun. Licenses must be renewed every 5 years like Canada, but the gun can be revoked if it is seen as a threat to the public, and background checks are necessary. They also have a safe storage requirement, and gun law that states any individual who unlawfully bought a gun deems a minimum 5-year prison sentence.
Among other European countries, Switzerland is seen as the country that has a more accepting culture of guns in Europe. But, it is still somewhat more strict than the U.S. Automatic weapons are banned for civilians. Licenses are valid for six to nine months, and are valid for generally only one weapon. This licensing requirement is only necessary for dealers and is not required for private sellers. With the less strict gun laws, Switzerland is the second country, after the U.S., among developed nations that has high firearm homicide death levels.
Lastly, Japan. Japan has some of the most strict gun laws in the world, and the extremely low levels of gun homicide deaths depict the effect of these laws. In order to obtain a gun in Japan, individuals must take an all-day course and pass a written test that is only offered once a month. Then they must pass a shooting test a range, and go to the hospital for a mental test and drug test, which is filed with the police. Then, a strict background check must be passed to become a shotgun or air rifle owner. The police must be provided with transparent documentation on the location in home and storage method of the gun and ammunition. The police inspect the guns every year and the exam must be taken with the class every three years. Owners are only allowed to fire for the specific reasons they stated in the original purchase, and officials have the ability to confiscate the gun after a disaster or incident. There is also a separate permit required for buying ammunition, which limits how much ammunition an individual can buy. Possession of handguns are banned for civilians.
Who it’s affecting
Almost all Americans know at least one victim of gun violence in their lifetime. Gun violence victims are disproportionately underserved communities of color in our nation. There is a 5 times more likely chance of unarmed Black civilians being shot and killed by the police than unarmed white civilians. Black men account for less than 6% of the population, but they make up 52% of all gun homicide victims (Gifford Law Center, n.d.). Below is a graph to depict this statistic.
Below is a graph showing the risk of police violence in different racial groups and genders.
This issue is not only affecting adults, but also children. It was found that 3 million children each year are directly exposed to firearm and gun violence. In fact, gun violence is the leading cause of death in children under 18 years of age (Gifford Law Center, n.d.). Below is a graph depicting this.
In the year of 2020, 54% of all U.S. gun deaths were suicides, while 43% were murders. From the year of 2019 to 2020, there was a significant increase of total gun deaths by 14%, which is 25% increase from 2015 and 43% increase from 2010. There has also been an increase in the number of active shooter incidents (Pew Research). Below is a graph depicting this statistic.
Below is a depiction of the amount of gun owners versus the amount of car owners. Yet, the cause of deaths due to gun violence surpasses the cause of deaths due to car accidents (Reader’s Digest).
In fact, there are more guns than people in the U.S. (Reader’s Digest).
The purchase of guns is continuing on the rise with an estimated 22 million guns purchased in 2020, a 64% increase since 2019 (Everytown).
According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, an estimated 31% of firearms incidents could have been prevented with two devices: a child-proof safety lock and a loading indicator (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Center for Violence Prevention, n.d.). In fact, parents assume that their children don’t know where the location of the gun is nor the method to use it. But, 40% of children in a research study were found to know the location of the gun, and 36% of children say they have handled the gun before.
Below is a graph showing the continued purchase of guns without background checks.
Americans want gun law reform. Below is a graph depicting the statistics.
Gun Violence is disproportionately affecting communities of color (Giffords, 2021). In fact, Christian Rich, a 15-year old student shares about his experience suffering through multiple gun shootings in his school life (Lodhi, 2021). The author of this article brings attention to the low funding in Missouri schools and therefore, its inability to fund gun violence prevention programs and lead to poor educational outcomes. An analysis mentioned in the article found that there was a correlation between schools that received less funding and the higher prevalence of gun violence in their schools (Lodhi, 2021). Furthermore, one researcher found that food insecurity was linked to gun violence. The researchers found that malnutrition was correlated with harmful child development, which led to extreme stress and emotional management. These factors increased the prominence of gun violence. In fact 70% of homicides in St. Louis occurred in low-income neighborhoods that didn’t have high accessibility to grocery markets (Meko, 2021).
Gun Laws and States
One study found that states with weaker gun laws have a direct correlation to higher rates of firearms. Hawaii has the lowest gun deaths in the country and has the second most strictest gun laws (Tucker, Krishnakumar, 2022). But it is important to note that just strict gun laws are not sufficient. California has the strictest gun laws in our country, yet without its actual enforcement in the state, there are still high levels of gun violence and deaths in the state. Most of the reason why this state has continued gun violence is due to utilization of ghost guns. Ghost guns are impossible to track because they are not registered , but rather assembled together through individual purchased parts. The attorney general office estimates 24,000 people have guns who shouldn’t in just California. These ghost guns are very prevalent in the state, but there are no law enforcement fundings to inhibit them in the streets (Skelton, 2022).
There are a multitude of different gun violence prevention plans that states and the federal government have been attempting most recently. To begin, President Biden shares his plan of directing the Justice Department to limit the spread of ghost guns by issuing regulations to require serial numbers on kits and background checks. Red flag laws that allow police officers and family members to petition suspension of firearms from an individual will be enforced (Karni, 2021). Furthermore, NYC Mayor Eric Adam’s develops a new gun violence prevention plan titled “Blueprint to End Gun Violence”, which targeted the root of the cause beginning with youth and enforced Summer Youth Employment programs, emphasized opportunities for young people, and would encourage a large enforcement of the NYPD law enforcement for removal of illegal guns in the city (Kutsch, 2022). Moreover, the development of a new type of guns called personalized smart guns was initiated. This new technology would inhibit children and convicted criminals from using smart guns because it will work in two ways of verifying users. Firstly, it would have a radio frequency identification token, which would be wearable technological devices that verifies the proximity of the token to the actual gun. Secondly, it will have a biometric recognition technology that activates based on fingerprint recognition. The NRA doesn’t oppose these smart guns, but does oppose any regulations that would inhibit Americans from acquiring non-smart guns (Shen, 2022). Lastly, San Jose directy works with the gun owners, requiring them to pay a liability insurance and annual fees for suicide prevention and other safety programs. This law’s purpose is to reduce gun violence in the city (Paybarah, 2022).
So, what can we do about this issue of gun violence?
Violence Intervention Programs
A big myth that many individuals hold is that most of the violence in our cities is due to gang violence, but in reality gun violence is more often related to personal connections, school connections, and at their places of worship. The violence usually occurs in spontaneous situations and is often deadly as it involves guns (Everytown, n.d.).
Violence Intervention Programs would allow for support for individuals who are at a higher risk of being victims of gun violence. Gun violence and assaults are disproportionately affecting low-income neighborhoods and historically underfunded communities. This is significant because gun homicides and assaults occur at alarming rates within our cities. In fact, the violence in our cities is a depiction of our country’s inherent systemic inequities. In the U.S., Black men are thirteen times more likely to die due to a gun homicide compared to white men. Leaders, administration, local organizations, and individuals are partaking in a force to reduce gun violence (Everytown, n.d.). So, what do these intervention programs do to alleviate the issue of gun violence?
Everytown is the largest gun violence prevention organization in America. It proposes a multitude of program models that would allow for the reduction of gun violence, especially focusing on a prevention program that is a “localized approach” (Everytown, n.d.). To begin, Street Outreach is one program that uses a public health approach to the issue of violence. In this model, the focus is on prevention to at-risk instigators or victims of gun violence. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health writes about this intervention program. Workers in the Street Outreach program are usually individuals in the community who focus on youth intervention programs and look for retaliation services by connecting them to services like housing and job training. The process of peacemaking usually involves gang leaders, peace circles, peace summits, and peace councils. Keshia Pollack, an assistant professor at Bloomberg Schools’ Department of Health Policy and Management stated that youth need special resources and strategies that will allow them to negotiate conflicts (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2010). Furthermore, in a CNN article, author Giffords found that the street outreach workers intervention allowed for high risk violence victims to become half as likely to be shot or arrested. The article highlights that Massachusetts is the leading state in funds towards community-based solutions to this violence, and in consequence, they have the lowest rate of gun homicides in the nation (Giffords, 2021).
Group Violence Intervention (GVI) program is a different model that utilizes a call-in meeting style where individuals in violent groups hear about demands for violence to cease from law enforcement, social service organizations, and community members. The call by law enforcement leaves an adamant message that the violence must stop, and if it is not stopped, the perpetrators will face big consequences. The call by the social service organizations and community members leave a message for suggested counseling and educational programs, as well as employment opportunities (Everytown, n.d.). One study found that this model allowed for homicide reductions of 30-60% (Giffords Law Center, n.d.)
The final intervention program that Everytown focuses on in this article is the Hospital-Based Violence Intervention programs (HVIPs), which are located in trauma centers and emergency departments. This model specifically draws attention to the patients in the hospital that are undergoing treatment for their violence injuries. They provide services for prevention of possible retaliation or subsequent injuries in future cases, as well as mental health counseling, financial/educational support and more. The key idea in this program is that there is a unique time that opens the hearts of victims during the aftermath process of the incident (Everytown, n.d.). The Giffords Law Center study found that this program allowed for estimated savings of $598,000 in health care costs. In fact, patients who partook in this program were “half as likely to be convicted of a crime and four times less likely to be convicted of a violent crime than those who did not participate, translating into approximately $1.25 million in incarceration cost savings” (Giffords Law Center, n.d.).
The NRA and the reason for its power
The Gallup Poll has asked the same question of “In general, do you feel that the laws covering the sales of firearms should be made more strict, less strict, or kept as they are now?” for 20 years, and over 50 percent of the responses have always been consistently in favor of “more strict” policy since 2000. Yet, what the U.S. got was not stricter gun laws, but rather inaction from the federal government and increased open-carry laws in swing states like Michigan. If the majority of the U.S. has wanted tougher gun laws, why is second amendment fundamentalism so significant in the GOP? The answer is the inexorable power of the NRA (Shapiro, 2021).
The NRA, or the National Rifle Association, was founded in 1871 by two US Civil War Veterans. But, its emphasis on its role of political lobbying began in 1934. It is now considered one of the most powerful lobby groups in the U.S. The NRA spends about $250 million a year, and about $3 million a year in lobbying for influence in gun policies. The NRA identifies members of the Congress from an A to F scale of their stands and support on gun rights. It continues to rely on the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to argue that more guns in the country will actually make the country safer. They aim to support an open-carry law where owners are able to carry their guns in public spaces (BBC, 2020). The NRA believes that with one restriction to guns, there will be eventual confiscation of all guns in the country (New York Daily News, 2016). The power of the NRA is not only in their budget and member count, but also in their ability to lobby and work in elements of the political system to propose and continue gun rights. Adam Winkler, a professor at the UCLA School of Law discussed how it isn’t just the money that the NRA holds and invests in lobbying, but the voters themselves. The NRA has been successful in swinging primary elections in favor of candidates who support gun rights. Although there are more people in favor of tougher gun laws, those who are for gun rights are highly motivated to push for their agenda, so work to swing individuals in the middle and encourage voting (Rushe, 2018). Below is a graphic that shows the contributions of Gun Rights and Gun Control groups (Kessler, 2018). Below that is a graph showing Federal Lobbying Spending among Gun Rights and Gun Control groups (Kessler, 2018).
The Dickey Amendment, what research can be done, and who will even believe it
The violence intervention programs and models discussed above have been analyzed in some aspects, but detailed analysis and research on the potencies of these programs is necessary. Research on gun violence has been difficult to execute because the Dickey Amendment mandated that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control” (Wexler, n.d.). No funds were allocated to gun violence research as it was posed as a threat to promote gun control. The Dickey Amendment itself rose after the CDC found that the reduction of deaths and injuries resulting from violence is heavily connected to guns. The NRA protested that this created a bias against guns and they began lobbying to eliminate the injury prevention center of CDC. Although it was not successful in getting rid of the center, it did persuade Congress leaders to take action and continue to restrict any research that could demonstrate anti-gun research. Then in 2012, after the Sandy Hook school shooting, President Obama clarified the meaning of the restriction to not completely prohibit gun violence research funding. However, Congress denied Obama’s persuasion of allocating funds to this research.
Finally, with the heightened rates of mass shootings and louder voices of student protests, early 2018, Congress finally compromised an omnibus spending bill of $1.3 trillion that allocated some funds to gun violence research. This did not take away the Dickey amendment, but clarified that federal funding of research for causes of gun violence is not prohibited. A report stated that, “[w]hile appropriations language prohibits the CDC and other agencies from using appropriated funding to advocate or promote gun control, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has stated the CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence”. Still, we are not sure what is the line that divides research that is promotion and advocacy for gun control and that is solely on the causes of gun violence. Congress hopes to use the new funding to information on efforts to reduce firearm deaths and injuries (Rostron, 2018).
Proponents of gun violence research hope to find research that can save lives that would have been due to gun violence. Like the seatbelt requirements and lower speed limits that were implemented after studies about motor vehicle deaths, researchers hope to find what can be done to prevent this violence and cause of death in many of our American, and especially children’s lives. They hope to depict gun violence as an injury prevention rather than politics. They are looking to find information on risk factors of gun violence in children and adults. Researchers will finally be able to find answers to basic questions like gun ownership and effectiveness of violence intervention programs. Sarah Burd-Sharps, the research director at Everytown for Gun Safety, discusses how she is hoping for research on the numbers of children who suffer from nonfatal firearm-related injuries and how safe storage can affect these incidents. She wishes to find more about background checks, red flag laws, and effective prevention programs in schools. Dr. Mysheika Roberts, Columbus Public Health Commissioner, wants to find the “vaccine to violence”, whether it be safe housing or a strong education system. We hope to see more research focused on prevention programs of gun violence, so that we can evaluate and choose effective programs for our nation. But, eventually who will believe it?
In an article published in November of 2021, ABC News interviewed a handful of gun owners to ask what they believe will allow for a solution to gun violence in the nation (Darrough, 2021). Some gun owners admitted that guns are easily trafficked from laid-back gun law states to stricter gun law states, and that safe storage is one of the most important solutions. Some gun owners state that regulation is not the emphasis of solution, but rather proper education is what is truly necessary. They believe gun safety should be taught in schools, in fact the NRA even developed a program called the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program to attempt to prevent firearm accidents among children. But multiple studies have shown that gun safety educational programs for children are generally ineffective in preventing firearm injuries among children and reducing their interest in playing with guns (Holly et al., 2018). Moreover, the NRA association was the supporting force of the Dickey Amendment and has caused for the long confiscation of such research, so it is difficult to say that they will even believe the research once it is presented. The NRA was a consistent force in breaking down the spread of information and studies about the causes of gun violence (Raphelson, 2018). Yet, they do not admit their efforts in limiting these studies. In fact, Lars Dalseide, an NRA spokesman, stated that “Anyone who thinks there’s a lack of researchers studying firearms has been ignoring the headlines. The fact is, a number of studies are released every year. While most are tainted with preconceived outcomes in search of supporting data, there is plenty of funding in that arena.” Dalseide, alongside the NRA members, believe that the research is “tainted”, so it is difficult to say that even with the new research coming, supporters of gun rights will even be willing to listen. However, we can hope that the intellectuals in Congress who are not being lobbied by the NRA, and officials, governmental leaders, and proponents of gun control laws can listen and utilize the new research that is coming to save lives in our nation. We can hope that ears will be opened to understand that gun violence cannot be a political issue but an epidemic, a public health crisis in our nation.
What laws work?
Researchers at RAND conducted a study to evaluate the effectiveness of three common gun laws that are utilized in states. The graph below shows the percentage reduction of firearm deaths with an addition to a restriction of storage, carry, and use:
Furthermore, researchers at Boston University write about the bigger significance of who has the guns rather than which guns are utilized. They introduce a study by Siegel, who identified the three most effective gun laws. Below is a list of all firearm laws in states:
Siegel’s study on state firearms usage and its relation to homicides found that universal background checks, permit requirements, “may issue” laws (laws that allow local authorities to have discretion of issued concealed weapons licenses), and bans of firearm possession for people with violent misdemeanors allow for a significant reduction of gun-related deaths. States that had implemented universal background checks had a 15% lower rate of homicides than states without so. Those that had a ban of firearm possession for people with violent misdemeanors had a 18% lower rate of homicides than states that did not have this ban. The study has reinforced that background checks are the most effective in reducing the amount of homicide rates. Below is a statistic graphic displaying this significance:
In an interview with Siegel, he mentioned that the three laws that he believes would be most effective are one, universal background checks, two, prohibition of gun purchase for people with history of misdemeanor or felony, and three, utilization of red flag laws which addresses those with an extreme risk of committing violence to others or themselves. Moreover, the limitation in research of which laws will be most beneficial display the negative effect of the Dickey Amendment. We can hope that with the new funding of research in this topic we will be able to really assess and evaluate which gun laws can help our country save lives.
Author: Ellis Kim