Gun Violence in America, A Multifaceted Problem - By David Pratt
Does America have a problem with gun violence?
Or is gun violence a symptom of a greater illness festering in America?
The simple answer is yes; of course we have a problem with gun violence. Nearly 40,000 Americans lost their lives in 2018 to guns, and even though mass shootings make the news more often, they account for a statistically insignificant amount of deaths each year compared to what happens in homes and in the streets all across the country. The sickening statistics of gun violence are repugnant in a way only eclipsed by the lethargy in which government moves to do anything about it. Agencies are handcuffed from using any resources to research gun violence for fear the results would anger powerful donors. So the misery and suffering continues, with hollow calls for thoughts and prayers the only response as an increasing majority of the population clamors for tighter gun control laws.
But what if the answer isn’t with stricter gun control, or at least not only with stricter gun control? What if the old adage that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” actually contains a grain of truth. Certainly the guns make it easier, but if we look under the hood at areas of concentrated gun violence, is it really the presence of guns alone inciting the tragedies?
An easy example to say gun control laws obviously work is Hawaii. They have the strictest gun control laws in the nation, eclipsed only in some ways by California, and also have the lowest rate of gun violence. The counter to this immediately comes up in that Chicago also has tough, restrictive laws, and yet suffer intensely from shooting deaths (despite the fact that Chicago is not even in the top 10 for gun-related deaths, a list topped by Detroit, St. Louis, and New Orleans). Now take a step back and really think about those two places.
The geography of Chicago makes it impossible for it to replicate Hawaii’s success. When Hawaii places limitations on gun ownership, its location makes it feasible for the state to exercise control over every firearm brought in to the state. Circumventing Hawaii’s restrictions is difficult in the extreme. Chicago, however, sits in a spot surrounded by the looser gun control laws of the surrounding states and counties, where anyone with any form of transportation can easily take a drive across state lines, purchase whatever they need, and drive back. The import of guns into Chicago is a big business, and there is no legal way to control it, unless every neighboring place were to adopt the same standards Chicago has, or the federal government takes over regulating gun control, which is not going to happen right away.
Even that, however, is not an explanation. Louisiana has loose gun restrictions and high rates of gun violence, but so does Vermont and it remains one of the safest states in the country. Wyoming and Alaska top the chart of gun ownership, but if you take away gun deaths that come from suicide, they have some of the lowest rates of gun violence. Now let us again peel back a layer and look at what is under the surface.
Louisiana has one of the highest rates of poverty and lowest rates of education in the country. Wyoming has low college graduation rates, but the second highest rate of high school graduation in the nation. Furthermore, its largely agrarian structure promotes a state where most citizens have the same level of education and income. Chicago, by comparison, has income rates that vary wildly from one block to another. Austin, Chicago’s poorest neighborhood, had 34 homicides in 2012. Oak Park, only a few miles away and with a median household income of $65,313, had 1. In Los Angeles, a city with comparable gun violence to Chicago, areas of concentrated chronic poverty have been demonstrated time and again to have higher and more consistent rates of gun violence than other parts of the city.
Does poverty cause gun violence? That isn’t a question we have an answer to. Is gun violence far more prevalent in areas of concentrated poverty? Yes, unequivocally. Do gun control laws work? If they can be enforced universally, it appears so, but if you are not a literal island three thousand miles removed from the next closest place to buy a firearm, odds dwindle.
What, then, is the greater moral imperative of the United States? To enforce a universal system of gun control and find ways to make such laws coexist with the Second Amendment, or to address the systemic poverty permeating the country and the societal issues it creates? Are the issues unrelated, or is it truly a case of a terrible symptom growing from an underlying cause?
We don’t have the answers to those questions, not definitively. All we know for sure is this – for the 40,000 lost last year, for the millions who have suffered, for the sake of at least being able to say we as a nation have the heart and compassion to care about our fellow citizens, we must do something.