As reported by Everytown for Gun Safety, between August 1 and September 15, there were at least 30 instances of shootings on school grounds, killing five people and wounding 23 in total. That marks the most shootings on campus in a back-to-school season since the organization began keeping records. Annually, more than 3,000 children and teens (ages 0 to 19) are shot and killed, and 15,000 are shot and wounded – that’s an average of 51 American young people every day.
The New York Times reported that in 2020 the U.S. experienced the largest increase in murder since national record-keeping began in 1960, according to data collected by the F.B.I. Their annual “Uniform Crime Report” reflected a 29 percent increase in murder and stands as the official count on an abnormally violent year. The previous largest one-year increase of 12.7 percent happened in 1968.
FBI statistics indicate nearly 40 million guns were legally sold in 2020, the highest level recorded since it began tracking the data in 1998. In January alone, U.S. gun sales surged 60 percent to 4,137,480. At this pace, gun sales in America will reach nearly 50 million in 2021. Millions of legally purchased guns often end up in the hands of criminals and gang members through theft, according to Mark Bryant, executive director of the Gun Violence Archive, an organization that tracks gun violence nationally using police statistics and media reports. The fact is that the US population accounts for only about 4% of the world population, but Americans own 48% of the guns in the world.
According to Nature.com, Congress — spurred by advocacy that followed some high-profile school shootings — has now authorized $25 million for each of the past two years to go to the NIH and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the study of gun violence as a public-health issue. Incredibly, the new money comes after more than two decades of what has essentially been a freeze on funding to study gun violence. And that’s left a massive knowledge gap, says Asheley Van Ness, director of criminal justice at Arnold Ventures in New York City, a philanthropic organization that pledged $20 million to gun research in 2018, in part because of the poor federal funding. “For decades we just have under-researched basic questions on gun violence,” she says.
What Can Science Achieve?
Everything begins with science and data — or at least, it should. That’s what I have learned as I have read about the most daunting challenges of our time in trusted news outlets, and as I have worked professionally with nonprofit organizations seeking to deliver solutions. There are ominous and unsettling dangers being presented like the progressing climate emergency, increased gun violence and the threat of a lingering COVID-19 pandemic. As if those threats were not enough, we also are realizing emerging devastation of drought, wildfires, water scarcity, food security, poverty and other issues that will surely have ripple effects. How do we face such daunting tasks like the exponential increase in gun violence? Let’s begin with logic.
Wise decisions begin with data. Research gives us evidence, data that can inform and guide smart public policies and legislation. Statistical results should also be shaping our public opinion but the politicization of these issues has prevented a groundswell of support to do better. In the best of times — and through the better angels within us — these empirical data would also drive coordinated community action. Sadly, our media climate and politicians have compromised any chance for a reasoned public narrative on these issues. Many media organizations exist only to serve echoed content to confirm fixed perceptions among like-minded audiences. Our nation is in desperate need of principled leadership, better public education, and regulation of self-declared media “news sources” that conflate and confuse these issues.
The risks are far too great to move forward without everyone understanding the data and working together to take every possible action to create the necessary change. Science can lead the way to smart planning on a philanthropic and civic level as well, but better marketing and communications are also needed to tell the data story. Whole movements can galvanize us to create positive change. I still believe in the power of people and social movements. I believe in the prospect of science for the people, and in people taking smart action. Better advocacy and communication around these complex problems can help achieve an intelligent and important national conversation.
The current trends in gun violence are pointing toward dire consequences if we don’t trust the data and let scientists, public health and safety advocates, professionals and policy experts lead us on the path of common sense. Politicians must stop catering to the lowest common denominator and taking their lead from a biased trade association. We must reduce the proliferation of handguns and assault weaponry and improve controls to manage the manufacture and commercial sale of firearms. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia currently require background checks before the sale of a firearm. We simply must do better. Now is the time to save ourselves and protect future generations with sensible decisions.
Science matters because it provides us with an objective pursuit of truth. Coordinated marketing and communications can help disseminate the truth. As we confront the most perilous times in modern human history, it is time to listen to the data, come together and support effective solutions being presented.
Our inaction as a nation of civilized people, be it through bickering or apathy, will simply be too disastrous to bear.