GUEST COMMENTARY - January 21 - Monterey Park. January 23 - Half Moon Bay. January 23 - Oakland.
It would be hard-pressed to find anyone unaware of the 3 horrific mass shootings last week in California, the state with the strictest gun laws in the Nation. Since then, there were also mass shootings in at least twelve other states, for a staggering total of 52 mass shootings in the first month of 2023. But this spate of mass shootings is just a snippet of America's twisted relationship with guns.
Mass shootings, varyingly defined as an incident of gun violence in which four or more people are injured, consistently receive the most public attention. However, they constitute - brace yourself - only 1% of gun deaths in America. Over 40,000 Americans die annually (110 daily) and twice that are wounded. Two-thirds of this figure die from gun suicides, the remaining are from homicides, assault with a deadly weapon, unintentional shootings, and defensive gun use.
Further, a bullet does not need to leave the chamber of a gun to cause gun trauma. This is why in finding a solution to ending American gun violence, we must also address police violence; the disproportionate harm of school resource officers (SRO’s) within majority-minority schools; and active shooter drills which cause irreparable harm to our students.
Despite all this, the gun lobby continues to sell the broken idea that the only thing that will make us safer is more guns. With that logic, the 400 million guns now in circulation on the streets of America should make the U.S. the the safest country in the world, right? Yet the inverse is true.
Gun Violence is a uniquely American issue. Every other peer country has mental health issues, domestic violence, video games - or whatever scapegoat the gun industry tries to pass off blame. But no other peer country has this many guns and this many gun-related deaths. And gun violence is the great equalizer. Regardless of race, age, faith, sexual identity, how much is in your bank account, or your zip code, it has now become a matter of when - not if - your life will be impacted by gun violence. We have become a nation of survivors.
In one month, gun deaths in America surpass any peer county in an entire year. This sad statistic is why February 1-7, 2023 is designated as the fifth National Gun Violence Survivor week, during which survivors share their stories in hopes of moving others to care and more importantly, to act. It initially was created with hopes that the date would be moved backwards in the year as gun violence in America decreased. Instead gun violence is exponentially increasing. The simple truth: easy access to lethal weapons combined with hate, depression, or isolation, increases the likelihood that the end result will be a fatality.
While this all can seem overwhelming, paralyzing, and hopeless, it’s imperative that now more than ever, we double down on taking action. With more electeds - including our current President and Governor - being gun safety champions, now is the time we can force change. But they need to hear our voices clamoring for action. This is what we must demand:
Education. There are tools already available to mitigate gun violence, but most people are unaware. We need a campaign to educate the public on laws like safe gun storage and tools like Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs). Awareness of Safe Storage laws can prevent firearms from getting in the wrong hands, like children. And since a history of domestic violence is the greatest warning sign of a mass shooter, tools like GVRO’s will temporarily remove a firearm from someone who may be a danger to themselves or others. GVRO’s have been proven to reduce gun violence when widely implemented, as they are in San Diego. But law enforcement and the public need to be trained on this life-saving tool.
Legislation. Most Americans - no matter where they are on the political dial - support common sense gun legislation. Yet the gun lobby’s chokehold on politicians has blocked the following:
- Universal background checks on all gun sales (including gun shows, private sales and online sales);
- Ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines - weapons of war do not belong on the streets of America;
- Ban untraceable ghost guns.
While most of these laws are supported by a majority of Americans, the gun lobby counters with concern about the slippery slope, asking where do we draw the line. The answer: somewhere. We have to draw the line somewhere.
Accountability. Looking at this epidemic from an economic angle, gun sales is a $9 Billion industry, yet costs our economy over half a trillion dollars in healthcare and quality of life costs. It is fiscally irresponsible to do nothing. While the gun lobby prioritizes profit over people, they are now marketing JR-15’s, “cute” weapons of war for children. Like the tobacco and vaping industry, we must hold the gun industry accountable for irresponsible marketing.
As much as the gun lobby likes to cite the constitution, please note the first sentence:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
While the gun industry taunts their Second Amendment rights, our preamble proves that our right to feel safe on our streets, in dance halls, at the movies, grocery shopping, at concerts and festivals, in prayer, and in our schools supersedes their right to bear arms. We cannot allow the gun lobby’s exploitation of an outdated second amendment to plow over the safety and well-being of all citizens who live in constant fear of being shot.
It is time to show that our voices matter. Call your Congressman, call your Senators, and let them know they need to stand up to the gun lobby and do something. And if they don’t, vote for someone who will. Let’s start moving the needle of gun violence in America back, towards progress.
(Mia Livas Porter is a former candidate for the California Assembly for AD-52, a gun violence survivor, and a gun violence prevention advocate. She lives with her husband and two sons in Elysian Valley.)