Skip to main content

We need federal, not state, gun policy

By Jill Koyama
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michael Bloomberg is spending $50 million to stem the tide of gun violence
  • Jill Koyama: We need a federal policy rather than piecemeal state legislation
  • She says we need to strengthen background checks and ban assault weapons
  • Koyama: We must find a way to preserve individual rights and reduce gun violence

Editor's note: Jill Koyama is an anthropologist and assistant professor of educational policy studies and practice at the University of Arizona. She is a fellow in the Op-Ed Project. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to spend $50 million of his own money to build a state-by-state grass-roots network focused on stemming the tide of gun violence by expanding the background check system for gun buyers.

His new organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, will bring together Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Actions for Gun Sense in America, two gun control groups he already funds. Everytown for Gun Safety will focus on 15 states because, Bloomberg says, we've got to work at gun control "piece by piece."

There's no disputing that gun violence in America needs to be tackled. Bloomberg is making a sizable investment, $30 million more than what the NRA -- the largest U.S. lobby group for gun rights -- spent in the 2012 election cycle.

Jill Koyama
Jill Koyama

But there are two problems. First, do we want mega-rich individuals to influence public policy or sway voters with their wealth? And, second, just as we need a federal immigration policy instead of piecemeal state legislation, don't we need a federal gun control policy?

I grew up in a family that owned guns. My father was a homicide detective and a member of the police department's SWAT team. He was also a hunter, as was my maternal grandfather. My stepfather, as a member of the Air Force, was well-trained in firearms.

As a child, I was taught the basics of gun safety, and I often accompanied one of these men when they honed their hunting skills through target practice or skeet shooting. Even though I was familiar with guns, they scared me, and I often worried that my father would be fatally shot by a criminal. This worry ended when he retired from the police force, but my fear of guns persisted.

The recent fatal shootings at Fort Hood and the Jewish Center in Kansas City have again brought my gun fears to the surface. I do not welcome the fears, but I do appreciate how the shootings have renewed the debate about gun control in Washington. Perhaps Bloomberg's new gun control group will fuel the debate further.

Bloomberg isn't the only one who cares about this issue, but he may be the most prominent. We need more big voices to get involved in solving the problem of senseless gun violence in America. But we also need to get some basic facts straight.

-- Guns kill. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence reports that an average of 86 people are killed by guns every day in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that between 2000 and 2010, more than 300,000 people died from guns.

-- Guns are the most common weapon used in murders and manslaughters. Handguns comprised 72.5% of the firearms used in murder and non-negligent manslaughter incidents in 2011: 4.1% were with shotguns, 3.8% were with rifles,18.5% were with unspecified firearms.

-- Children are often victims of gun violence. Eighty-two children under 5 years old died from firearms in 2010, and half of all juveniles killed in the same year were killed with a gun. As reported by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, nearly three times more children were injured by firearms in 2010 than the number of U.S. soldiers wounded in action the same year in the war in Afghanistan.

-- Guns kill young African-American men more than anything else. In deaths of 15- to 24-year-olds, firearms homicide rates in the United States are about 43 times higher than in other developed countries, and for young African-American men ages 15-24, it's the leading cause of death. For African-American male youth, firearms homicides surpass unintentional injuries, cancer, HIV and other diseases combined.

Of course, gun rights advocates often point out that people don't need guns to kill. They can use other weapons such as knives. This is true, but in practice people are nowhere near as likely to get killed with a knife. In America, of 14,022 homicides in 2011, 11,101 were committed with firearms. The rate of fatality is nearly four times higher when someone uses a gun rather than a knife to assault another person.

Stronger background screenings of potential gun owners would be a good start to curtailing firearm deaths. A study to be published in a forthcoming issue of Journal of Urban Health shows that when Missouri repealed a handgun law in 2007 that required all handgun purchasers to verify that they had passed a background check, the murder rate increased by 16%, adding 55 to 63 murders per year.

Even before the results of the study were released, many Americans -- including most gun owners -- supported universal background checks. That's just one reason for Congress to pick up the issue of gun control again. Another is that since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which was the last time there was a serious debate about gun control, there have been 44 more school shootings and 28 deaths.

Now that the debate has again been sparked, let's try to find ways that would both preserve individual rights and make guns less responsible for deaths.

A common sense approach is offered in the 2013 book "Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis" by Daniel Webster and Jon Vernick, with a forward by Michael Bloomberg. We should strengthen background checks, ban assault weapons and magazines that fire more than 10 rounds, and fund research on what actually works to end gun violence.

If you agree, please follow something my father, an avid gun lover, liked to say: We need to make it tough to get guns because too many careless people use them to end petty arguments and squabbles. Let's not try to do it state by state. Let's take a stance as a nation.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Sat November 15, 2014
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
updated 12:42 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
updated 4:29 PM EST, Sat November 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
updated 5:00 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
updated 11:57 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
updated 9:55 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
updated 8:47 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
updated 8:58 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
updated 3:14 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
updated 1:21 PM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT