Every year in the United States, thousands of people die at the hands of a public health crisis that has plagued the country for decades. Gun violence is responsible for the death of more than 110 Americans every day and firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States. It is a detriment to the health, safety, and well-being of people across the country and has continuously infiltrated all our communities. Similar to most public health crises, gun violence also disproportionately impacts poorer communities and communities of color.
Lack of both education and regulation around these weapons continues to create an environment where children are scared to go to school in fear of losing their lives. In the United States, individuals only have to be 18 years old to buy an assault rifle like the one that was used to kill 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas this past May, making it the deadliest school shooting in almost a decade.
While debates continue over issues related to the Second Amendment, families are stuck grieving the unfair loss of their loved ones. While no parent should have to experience this pain, the reality in the United States is bleak — even during a time monopolized by the COVID-19 pandemic, the country witnessed twenty-seven school shootings that took the lives of hundreds of children just this year.
Congress has responded to this public health crisis by annually allocating $25 million to the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) and the National Institutes of Health (“NIH”) to research gun violence. The CDC uses a public health approach in analyzing gun violence by providing data to inform action, applying science to identify effective solutions, and promoting collaboration across multiple sectors to address the problem. Additionally, the CDC’s Division of Violence Prevention is currently funding ten state health departments, up to $225,000 per recipient, as part of an initiative to provide surveillance data on near-real time emergency visits for nonfatal firearm injuries.
Furthermore, Congress introduced and passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (“BSCA”) this session, which will enhance background checks for buyers under 21 years old, disarm domestic abusers, invest in mental health services, and provide federal funding for Red Flag Laws. Though this was a monumental step in curbing the terror of gun violence, barriers still exist to achieving a country free from this crisis. In June 2022, the United States Supreme Court decided New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen. This decision struck down a New York state law that restricted individuals from carrying handguns in public by requiring them to “demonstrate a special need for self-protection.” Removing these strict limitations on carrying firearms in public further threatens the health and safety of Americans across the country. Given the Supreme Court’s current conservative majority, it is critical that local, federal, and administrative leaders step up to save the thousands of lives that could be lost to gun violence in the coming years.
In February 2021, Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced Ethan’s Law which aimed to establish a federal framework to regulate the storage of firearms on residential premises at the federal, state, and tribal levels. Although the bill did not pass federally, it is still possible to replicate these safety measures at the local and state level. So far, 23 states have adopted these laws, forcing gun owners to make a reasonable effort to safely store and lock their firearms so that they cannot be accessed by children. Through this effort, policymakers will reduce the almost 350 deaths annually that result from children unintentionally shooting themselves or others due to improper storage of firearms in their homes.
As demonstrated by the attempts detailed above, gun violence will not be an easy problem to solve. There must be a willingness to do whatever it takes to prevent guns from taking any more of our loved ones. This includes taking steps like securely storing firearms, advocating for bi-partisan legislation, and educating our communities on this public health crisis. It is through these tangible steps that our society can start to curb the terror of gun violence in the United States.