What Do We Do About the Gun Problem in America?

by | May 25, 2023

What do we do about the gun problem in America cover image

Mass Shootings on the Rise 

Although there is no agreed upon definition of a “mass shooting,” most experts do agree that a mass shooting is one which results in the deaths of four or more victims. Some mass shootings happen in schools, causing fear and panic among children, teens, and teachers. Others occur in public places like stores and shopping malls, bringing terror to public places that we go every week. Still others happen behind the closed doors of a home. No matter their location, we can no longer ignore the violence and stay quiet. It is time for the grass roots to rise up.    

So far in 2023, (this is the end of May), there have been more than 200 mass shootings in the U.S. Last year, there were 647 mass shootings. Are we becoming numb and indifferent to this violence in our society? Do we find it acceptable that many of our sons, daughters, and grandchildren are afraid of going to school?    

An Interesting View  

In episode # 10 of the Grass Roots Health podcast, (https://1795group.com/podcast/), I interviewed Dr. Yotam Ophir. He is originally from Israel. The cultures of Israel and the United States are very different. In Israel gun ownership is very low – about 2% of the population. Compare that to gun ownership in the U.S where approximately 45% of households own at least one firearm. That translates to almost 82 million Americans over age 18 who own guns.  

Because he is not from the U.S., Dr. Ophir’s eyes and perspectives on U.S. culture are “fresh” and unbiased. He said this about the gun violence problem in America: “Our mis/disinformation system collides with our gun control policies so that even if a small percentage- a tiny percentage of people shoot others with a gun, means that hundreds and thousands of people per year will lose their lives.”  In 2022, more than 48,000 Americans died due to firearms (including suicide).  

Other Nations View the U.S. as Violent 

In 2017 or so, I vividly remember talking to one of my former doctoral students. She was from India. After a mass shooting in the U.S., her Indian uncle called her and told her that it would be best if she came back to India to avoid the gun violence. He may have been correct. 

India has one of the strictest gun laws in the world. Acquiring a firearm is a privilege and not a constitutional right (like in the US). In fact, Arms Rules, 2016, makes licenses necessary, even for air guns. The process of obtaining licenses is difficult and often takes months. Licenses are granted only after a thorough assessment, including background checks. U.S. style mass shootings are rare. Although nothing to be proud of, most weapons in India are used in gang warfare, political vendettas, and illegal militias.

Research also demonstrates that people around the world perceive the U.S. like my students’ Indian uncle did. At least 7 in 10 adults in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and England say gun violence in the United States is “poor” or “terrible” while nearly as many people in Japan say the same thing. People in many developing countries of the world hold even more negative views of gun violence in the United States. Is this the reputation that we want across the world? 

Gun-Related Deaths and Suicide on the Rise in the U.S.        

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2021 than in any other year on record. That is nearly an 8% increase from 2020 – which was also a record-breaking year. Firearm related injuries are now the leading cause of death for youths 19 and younger. For Black American youth, firearms are the third leading cause of death. 

These deaths include both gun murders and gun suicides. 

Unfortunately, the  U.S. has one of the highest rates of suicide of all wealthy nations in the world. Suicide is now the 11th leading cause of death nationwide. Among children and young adults, ages 10 to 34, suicide is the second leading cause of death

The gun suicide rate is now on par with its historical peak of 1977. More gun suicide deaths occur in the U.S. (7.5/100,000) than gun-related murders 6.7/100,000). Strangulation and suffocation have been the most common methods of suicide by children (e.g., ropes, belts, electrical cords, pet leashes, and clothes). Firearms have been a distant second method for all children. Thus, restricting children’s access to firearms would have limited success against child suicides.  

Mass Shootings

According to the New York Times (May 8, 2023), below is just a partial list of mass shootings that have occurred since January 2023:   

May 6: Allen, Texas

A shooter opened fire at a crowded mall outside Dallas, killing at least eight people and injuring at least seven before a police officer killed him, the authorities said.

May 3: Atlanta

A shooter opened fire in a waiting room at a medical office building in Midtown Atlanta, killing one and injuring four others. The suspect was apprehended after a manhunt that lasted several hours, the authorities said.

May 1: Henryetta, Oklahoma

A registered sex offender fatally shot six people, including his wife and three of her children, before turning the gun on himself at his ranch in Henryetta, a small town south of Tulsa, the authorities said.

April 28: Cleveland, Texas

A man fatally shot five people after he was asked by a neighbor to stop firing a gun in his yard, the authorities said. The man was found after a dayslong search involving state and federal officers.

April 15: Dadeville, Alabama

Four people were killed and 32 others were injured in a shooting at a birthday party at a dance studio in the Alabama city, officials said. Days later, the authorities said five people had been charged in connection with the attack.

April 10: Louisville, Kentucky

A 25-year-old man shot and killed five colleagues at the downtown bank where he worked, the police said. Eight others were wounded in the attack. The suspect was killed by the police after exchanging fire with them.

March 27: Nashville

A heavily armed assailant shot and killed three children and three adults at a private Christian elementary school. The shooter, who the authorities said was a former student at the school, was shot and killed by the police.

Feb. 19: Memphis

Eleven people were shot, one fatally, at two separate crime scenes that the authorities said they believed were connected. Investigators said they had identified three people of interest who they believed could be involved in the shootings. Their names were not made public.

Feb. 17: Tate County, Mississippi

A 52-year-old man went on a shooting rampage at multiple locations in rural Mississippi, killing six people, including his ex-wife and two siblings who were both in their 70s. The shooter, who was taken into custody, began his killing spree at a convenience store in his hometown, Arkabutla, Mississippi, where he fatally shot a man who appeared to have no connection to him, the police said. Arkabutla is an unincorporated community about 45 miles south of Memphis.

Feb. 13: East Lansing, Michigan

A shooter fatally shot three students and wounded five others on Feb. 13 on the Michigan State University campus, including at Berkey Hall. Three college students were killed and five others were wounded in shootings at two buildings on the Michigan State University campus. The shooter, a 43-year-old man who had no known connection to the university, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the police said.

Feb. 1: Washington, D.C.

A shooter attacked people on a bus and inside a Metro station in Southeast Washington D.C. before bystanders tackled him and officers took him into custody. A transit employee who tried to intervene was killed, and three other people were injured.

Jan. 28: Los Angeles

Three people were killed and four others wounded in an early-morning shooting in an upscale neighborhood near Beverly Hills, Calif. The Los Angeles Police Department said the shooting took place at a short-term rental business.

Jan. 23: Half Moon Bay, California

Seven people were fatally shot and one was transported to a hospital with life-threatening injuries after a shooter opened fire at two separate farms. A 67-year-old man who lived and worked at one of the farms, and previously worked at the other, was arrested; the authorities believe he intentionally targeted his victims.

Jan. 21: Monterey Park, California

A 72-year-old shooter killed 11 people and wounded at least nine others at a dance hall in a predominantly Asian American community as they celebrated the Lunar New Year. The police were investigating the motives of the shooter, who the police said was found dead a day later from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

Jan. 16: Goshen, California

Four generations of a single family were fatally shot by two intruders inside a home in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The dead included a 72-year-old woman who was asleep in bed; a teenage mother and her infant; and a 19-year-old man. Although some members of the family had been involved in gangs, the police said, the nature of the attack appeared to be a calling card of Mexican drug cartels.

Jan. 4: Enoch, Utah

Eight people, all in the same family, were killed inside a home in what the police said was a murder-suicide. The victims included five children, ranging in age from 4 to 17.

A version of this article appears in print on March 28, 2023, Section A, Page 13 of the New York edition with the headline: 130 U.S. Mass Shootings This Year, by One Count. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe   

Gun Violence Now a Top Public Health Concern  

Today, according to the Axios/Ipsos American Health Index, 26% of Americans now believe that easy access to guns is the top threat to public health. Second on the list was opioids and fentanyl. Around 25% believed that that these drugs were the top concern. According to Ipsos, concern over access to firearms is growing. In February 2022, only 17% of Americans cited gun access as a top concern. 

Which Americans were concerned the most about guns in this survey? The results of this survey reported that 49% of Black Americans, 50% of Democrats, and 31% of people living in urban areas cited firearm access as their number one concern.

A poll conducted in the summer of 2022 by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that 71% of Americans said that gun laws should be stricter. The respondents who reported favoring stricter gun laws were about half of Republicans, the vast majority of Democrats, and a majority of those in gun-owning households. Overall, 8 in 10 respondents believed that gun violence was increasing around the country, and about two-thirds reported that it has increased in their state. 

The Common Link Among Many Mass Shooters 

Recently, the U.S. Secret Service published a 60-page report detailing trends in mass attacks in public spaces. Their goal in writing and disseminating this report was to share patterns with community leaders that may help prevent the next tragedy. 

The investigators reported that a personal grievance of some sort was the single most common motive for mass shootings. However, 25% of the mass shooters studied between 2016 to 2020 were motivated by conspiracy theories or hateful ideologies.

Conspiracy theories such as “the 2020 election was rigged,” “the vote was stolen,” “the government is being run by a secret cabal of pedophiles led by Jews and liberals,” “a deep-state that opposes Donald Trump,” the COVID-19 vaccine kills people,” and the “great replacement theory,” are part of a dangerous mis/disinformation campaign that has been spread by mass media and social media. These conspiracy theories have damaged public health, shaken faith in the democratic process, killed people, and helped spark a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol in January 2021.

Right after the mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, right-wing conspiracy theories increased and moved faster than ever from fringe to the mainstream, thanks to a misinformation infrastructure that has grown stronger over time. 

The mis/disinformation narratives start on the Internet in places like 4chan or Reddit. Then these messages are picked up by individuals with more power and louder voices. These messages then quickly make it to the public consciousness. 

An example is how this pipeline of mis/disinformation is now moving from obscure Internet platforms to the mouths of sitting members of the U.S. Congress such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert. Greene and Boebert were among at least a dozen Republican congressional candidates in 2020 who had endorsed or gave credence to QAnon’s erroneous belief that Trump was the last line of defense against a cabal of child-molesting Democrats who seek to dominate the world. If you repeat a lie enough times, people start believing the lie. 

The First Modern Day Conspiracy Theory About a Mass Shooting 

Perhaps the first modern-day conspiracy theory revolved around the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. On December 14, 2012, in Newtown Connecticut, a 20-year-old white male walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and fatally shot 20 children and 6 adults, before taking his own life. Investigators determined that the shooter used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle his primary weapon throughout the attack. 

Alex Jones, the Texas conspiracy theorist, was ordered to pay nearly $1 billion to the family members of Sandy Hook victims. Why? Because Jones claimed the entire thing was a hoax. Then later in November of 2022, Jones was ordered to pay $473 million more bringing the total penalty to $1.44 billion. Jones repeatedly told his followers that the massacre that killed 20 first graders and six educators was staged by “crisis actors” to enact more gun control.

Those who believed him showed up in Newtown and harassed family members connected to the shooting. This provided an early example of how misinformation spread on social media could cause real-world harm to people. Fringe ideas could quickly become mainstream on social media and win support from various establishment figures – even when the conspiracy theory targeted grieving family members. Even the 2010 Republican nominee for Connecticut Attorney General, Martha Dean, gave credence to doubts about the tragedy.

No Training and No Permit for Gun Ownership is NOT the Answer 

My wife and I are gun owners. We own five handguns, two of which are investments that I purchased long ago from family members and have not been fired since. We have been trained by a police officer in his 4-hour safety course. Then he trained us for another two hours in shooting technique on his outdoor shooting range. Then, my wife and I had to pass a state exam. Then we applied for and received our concealed carry license. Then we drove to the Sheriff’s Department to meet with a Deputy and to pick it up.  We practice often to ensure that our technique is correct. 

We never have loaded handguns around in the presence of our grandchildren. We do not carry concealed weapons and have never fired our weapons at another person. We are well trained and had to wait three weeks to get our concealed carry license. 

The question of how to prevent such mass shootings via guns has long divided politicians and many voters, making it difficult to change gun laws. I, more than many, understand the political aspects of this problem. 

However, I see gun lobbyists such as the National Rifle Association simply blocking all attempts to do anything. I see a conservative majority on the Supreme Court expanding gun rights. I see an Ohio Republican Governor and Republication state lawmakers allowing people in Ohio to carry a firearm without a permit.   

I ask you, is more guns on the streets the answer? Is being able to carry a gun without any training or a permit the answer. Have we become numb and indifferent to gun violence in our society? 

Doing Nothing but Sending Our Thoughts and Prayers is Not An Option 

Doing nothing, including saying, “They are in my thoughts and prayers,” is NOT AN OPTION. 

The Second Amendment   

So, what do we do about the gun violence problem (and harmful conspiracy theories) in America? 

The Second Amendment to the U.S. constitution reads: “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.”

My questions to you are this: 

  • Do we live in 1775 under the rule of the British Empire?  
  • Are we fighting foreign troops on our soil to ensure that Americans are free?  

The answer to both of those questions is “no.” The Second Amendment was drafted over 232 years ago! The U.S. was an entirely different place in 1791 compared to today. The American Revolutionary War, ended only eight years prior and our country consisted of only fourteen states.

As folks migrated from the east coast to the west, the land was unexplored and people had to defend themselves against wild beasts and native Americans whose lands our ancestors were invading. Regular Americans, living in this wild and unchartered terrain, were often the only line of defense in their town or village during times of war. 

I contend that any document or book must be read and understood within the historical context in which it was written. The drafters of the Second Amendment intended individuals to keep and bear arms connected to a militia only.

No longer are we responsible for the defense of our borders, our cities, towns, and villages. We have law enforcement and military personnel that now respond to emergency situations and threats to security. No longer are we confronted with the reality of an unexplored land and having to defend ourselves against wild beasts and native Americans whose lands we are invading. 

The problem is that many who own guns do not trust the U.S. Government and believe that the authorities will come one day to take their guns away. Therefore, they want their guns to fight our own government.   

I have also heard others say that, “Guns do not kill people. People kill people.”  That saying is  illogical. This slogan presents a false dilemma or a false dichotomy. Such an illogical statement presents an either/or choice that is a type of informal fallacy. This statement tries to force a choice between what does the killing – guns or people? In fact there is no reason to suppose that the answer is either/or. Actually, it is both. People with a gun kill people.  

Common-Sense Gun Laws that Would Protect Us All 

Below are 10 common-sense gun laws that I support. These laws would protect us all.  I would encourage you to support these laws and request that they be implemented in your state. 

10 common-sense gun laws that would protect us all: 

1) Raise the federal age limit to 21 years of age for buying a semi-automatic rifle (e.g., AR-15). 

2) Do a comprehensive background check of every potential gun-buyer. 

3) Reject training-less and permit-less open or concealed carry laws.    

4) Implement “red flag”/extreme risks laws for gun buyers. 

5)  Implement a 10-day waiting period for buying a gun. 

6) Ban high-capacity ammunition magazines. 

7) Increase penalties for gun trafficking.

8) Require gun owners to store their guns safely.

9) Update and strengthen laws that prohibit untraceable firearms. 

10) Restrict the sale of “bump stocks” that make semi-automatic rifles fire nearly continuously, like

    automatic weapons

Americans Desire Change 

In the summer of 2022, a survey conducted by two highly respected sources reported that 71% of Americans said that our gun laws should be stricter, including half of Republicans, most Democrats, and a majority of those in gun-owning households. Likewise a Gallup poll in early 2023 reported that almost 2/3 of Americans (63%) said that they were “dissatisfied” with our current gun laws. 

The majority of Americans want change. 

The only people that are stopping us from implementing such common-sense gun laws are the President of the United States, the governor of your state, members of your state legislature, and your state senators and congressional representatives in the U.S. congress. 

Remember, all of them work for us – the grass roots – the people. They were elected to do what the majority wants done. They have no money. They tax us and then use our money. Email them. Call them. Write letters to them. Tell them that you want change. If they choose not to represent the majority of Americans that desire change, then let’s vote them out at the ballot box and replace them with people who will represent us.

Dr. Tim Jordan

Dr. Timothy R. Jordan has been a health educator (grades 6-12), Assistant High School Principal, Associate Director of Graduate Medical Education for a large health care system, and a Professor of Public Health for the past 23 years. His areas of research include end-of-life, reducing racial/ethnic health disparities, health behavior change, chronic disease prevention, and smoking prevention and cessation. He is the founder and the current director of the 1795 Group.

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