How Do We Reduce Gun Violence?

I sit here thinking about all the lives lost to guns, about the same debates we keep having on loop after every mass shooting, about what we can do to actually address and lessen gun deaths.

I do believe we need stricter gun safety laws. We have lots of evidence suggesting a link between more guns and more gun crime. That is one crucial piece of the puzzle…though one that we seem stubbornly unwilling to actually do anything about.

But it is only one piece of the puzzle. Because it is true that guns are a tool, and the problem is not necessarily the tool itself but the way it’s used. Now, that is NOT an argument for “just leave guns alone.” To use a parenting analogy, when my kid gets angry and throws a toy at the wall I don’t assume the toy is the problem, BUT I do take it away from my angry child and keep him away from other dangerous things he could throw that would hurt me or others around us.

The other big piece of the puzzle is that, for a variety of reasons, we are a culture that breeds violence. We can’t seem to get any traction on the gun-ownership side, but maybe we can address some of these other issues, too.

1) Gun violence (and violence in general) are correlated with poverty. Gun violence disproportionately affects the poor — not because they are inherently violent, but because the constraints of poverty (the stress of never having enough, worrying for your safety, not having any trust in a decent future) lead to violence. Alleviate poverty and we alleviate gun violence.

2) Patriarchy. I recently watched the documentary The Mask You Live In (available to stream on netflix). It deals with the pressures boys and men feel about how to “be a man,” the pressure to be tough, to use violence as the only acceptable way to get what you want. This is so ingrained that we don’t think it’s wrong to literally teach kids that hitting is how you “teach” right from wrong. The vast majority of shooters are men, and that’s not because of “hormones” or “genetics” but because of toxic masculinity. We as parents can help with this — we can raise our children to know the strength in being kind and gentle, in empathy, in being comfortable with their full range of emotions and know how to express them in healthy ways.

2.5) There is a strong component of domestic violence in mass shootings — 70% of mass shootings occur inside homes. Also: “We found that in 57 percent of mass shootings, the shooter targeted either a family member or an intimate partner. According to HuffPost’s analysis, 64 percent of mass shooting victims were women and children. That’s startling, since women typically make up only 15 percent of total gun violence homicide victims, and children only 7 percent.” (source)

3. We can’t talk about gun deaths without talking about suicide. Suicides account for 1/2 to 2/3 of all gun deaths in the US. We need better education about and resources for preventing suicides. We need to eliminate the stigma around mental illness, which is a huge barrier to access to help. We can help with this by being mindful of the way we talk about mental illness in our daily lives.

Gun violence is a complex issue with lots of factors intersecting it. We need to approach it from multiple angles to get to the sources of it. And we need ALL the help we can get.