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 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT