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Essay

Now is the Time: Turning Information into Action

By Helena Pennington, Literary Fellow

If you feel overwhelmed by the very thought of discussing gun violence, you’re in good company. Feeling rather overwhelmed ourselves, we reached out to Everytown for Gun Safety — a nonprofit organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence in the United States — for help getting started. We came away from this conversation feeling newly equipped with information, and better yet, empowered to do something with it. Here’s what we learned.

Four need-to-know facts about gun violence in the US:

  1. The FBI defines “mass shooting” as an incident in which four or more people are killed or injured by a single shooter at roughly the same time and place. By that definition, there have been 989 mass shootings in the United States since 2014. That’s almost one per day. (Gun Violence Archive) 
  2. 54% of mass shootings begin as domestic incidents — meaning, the gunperson wounds an intimate partner or family member immediately before entering a public space. There’s a correlation between those who commit domestic abuse and those who go on to perpetrate mass shootings. (Everytown Research Center) 
  3. Though we tend to focus on isolated large-scale incidents, it’s important to remember that gun violence in the US is an ongoing national crisis: An average of 93 people are killed each day due to gun violence, and twice as many people are injured. Each day, an average of seven children suffer fatal gunshot wounds. (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 
  4. This means an average of 34,668 people are killed by gun violence every year. Of those deaths, approximately 2,277 are children or teenagers. (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Four facts essential to understanding gun violence in US schools:

  1. Since 2013, there have been 272 violent incidents involving guns on elementary, middle, and high school campuses. 59 students have been killed, and 124 injured. (Everytown Research Center) 
  2. Approximately one in 10 of these incidents was unintentional, resulting from the accidental discharge of a gun. One in six began as a verbal altercation that escalated due to the presence of a gun, rather than in spite of it. (Everytown Research Center) 
  3. Educational organizations and federal law enforcement agencies agree: arming teachers is not an adequate solution to the problem of gun violence in schools. In an FBI analysis of 130 active shooter situations, there was only one successful bystander intervention with a firearm; that bystander was an off-duty marine. (US Department of Justice) 
  4. On-campus gun violence invariably results in reduced enrollment at the affected school, and lowers surviving students’ standardized test scores by an average of five percent. (Journal of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis)

Experts agree that the single most effective way to prevent unnecessary gun violence is to ensure that background checks are always conducted prior to the sale of firearms. Here are six key reasons why:

  1. Under federal law, a person is barred from purchasing guns if they are convicted of certain violent crimes, adjudicated as mentally ill, or subject to a domestic violence restraining order. However, this federal law is not consistently enforced at the state and local level. 
  2. Across the board, states with robust background check legislation experience significantly fewer instances of gun violence than states with more relaxed policies. Since its inception, the background check system has prevented over three million attempts to purchase firearms illegally. (Bureau of Justice Statistics)
  3. Background checks can only prevent the illegal sale of firearms if they are performed without exception. Right now, there are a number of legislative loopholes preventing this. For example, the “private seller loophole” allows firearms sold outside the auspices of a licensed gun dealership to change hands without background checks. This includes firearms purchased at online stores, gun shows, and private residences. 
  4. In 2017, approximately one in five gun sales were conducted without a background check. (The Annals of Internal Medicine)
  5. Countrywide, there’s negligible opposition to background checks. A 2016 Quinnipiac University poll shows that 93% of Americans — gun owners and non-gun owners alike — are in favor of universal background checks prior to sale. Police and law enforcement almost unanimously agree on this point, too. 
  6. Given the overwhelming national support for universal background checks, what’s the hold-up on state and federal legislation mandating them? It’s primarily due to the successful lobbying of the National Rifle Association. The only way to move the needle on background check legislation is to advocate for it, by making our voices — and our votes — speak louder than the NRA’s pocketbook. 

Two actions you can take right now to advocate for gun safety legislation: 

  1. Sign up for Everytown for Gun Safety’s digital mailing list to receive news and up-to-the-minute action items. Consider joining your local chapter, as well: with a presence in every state, each chapter advocates for sensible gun safety legislation by organizing phone banks, write-ins, and more. You can join right now by texting the number 64433 on your cell phone, or by visiting their website, everytown.org.
  2. Call your state representatives, and ask them to support legislation designed to reduce unnecessary gun violence — including policy requiring universal background checks, strengthening databases, and closing loopholes.

Three ways to learn more about gun violence and legislation in the US: 

  1. Visit everytownresearch.org for more information on gun safety, access to the latest research on gun violence, and breaking news about gun policy nationwide. 
  2. Read David Hemenway’s Private Guns, Public Health for a powerful data-based consideration of the gun violence epidemic and its far-reaching ramifications on public health. 
  3. Read Adam Winkler’s Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America for a thoughtful, comprehensive look at the divisive cultural history of gun policy in the US.