Daniel Webster: We should not have to accept these often preventable acts of gun violence
Gun owners are sick of these killings and want policies to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people
Editor’s Note: Daniel Webster is director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, and professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Once again, Americans are shocked and saddened by an unspeakable act of gun violence. Nine innocent people who attended a bible study at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, will not return home to their loved ones, and a community will forever be changed.
In a nation with a homicide rate that is nearly seven times higher than the average of other developed countries which have much stricter regulations, the all too regular experience of mass murder committed with firearms in American is tragic and senseless.
We should not have to accept these often preventable acts of violence – about 11,000 homicides committed with firearms per year, or about 30 a day – as our fate.
Although victims are sometimes chosen at random, acts of violence are not random. They occur due to a number of factors that we understand better as a result of scientific studies. While the data are unclear about whether access to a gun causes violence, it is clear that for individuals with a history of violence, substance abuse, and criminal behavior, having access to firearms increases their risk of committing lethal violence.
But many people believe that keeping guns from dangerous people simply doesn’t work. They’ve swallowed the gun lobby’s Kool-Aid – that criminals don’t obey gun laws, so gun control laws needlessly burden law-abiding gun owners without doing anything to reduce violence.
This is just not true.
Research shows that actually, gun laws supported by the vast majority of gun owners are effective at reducing homicides.
When Connecticut adopted a law requiring all handgun purchasers to obtain a permit from local law enforcement contingent upon the applicant passing a background check and completing safety training, homicides with firearms were lowered by 40% during the 10 years following the law’s implementation. Conversely, when Missouri repealed a similar law in 2007, its homicide rate with firearms increased by 25%.
Faith leaders are no strangers to gun violence. They preside over funerals and comfort the bereaved after shootings and try to bring meaning and answers to unspeakable acts of violence. Many have been inspired to act to change policies and conditions that contribute to gun violence.
Recently, faith leaders throughout the nation from many religions and denominations started a grassroots movement to promote handgun purchaser licensing laws.
Politicians and others may dismiss this as an impossible task given the power of the gun lobby. But while some gun laws are controversial, policies to keep guns from dangerous people are not.
A recent national survey found that 85% of gun owners support laws requiring background checks for all gun sales, and 6 out of 10 support handgun purchaser licensing.
Despite a well-funded and sophisticated effort by the gun lobby to convince gun owners that any regulation of firearms violates their Constitutional rights and is a step toward disarming the population, the vast majority of gun owners know better. They are as sick of these killings as anyone else and want policies to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
Faith leaders helped transform our nation when they demanded progress in civil rights. With broad support from all of us for the cause, they may be key to leading America to the type of reforms we need to save thousands of Americans each year from gun violence.