Too Many Moments of Silence: Gun Violence in America
You don’t need me to tell you that there has been a somber and disturbing recurring theme in the news lately, with the most recent well-known murder being the live killing of two journalists on camera in Roanoke, VA. This follows a number of high profile killings this year and follows a dark history that traces back through shootings in movie theatres, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Columbine High School. Some will say that this is not a teen-specific issue – and it’s not – but when we acknowledge that the top three causes of death in 15-24 year olds are accidents, homicides, and suicides and that firearm-related deaths cause more than 20 percent of deaths in this age group based on 2013 data, the relevance to adolescent health cannot be denied.
According to some experts, children living in the United States are fourteen times more likely to be killed by a gun than in other developed countries. In a national survey of high school students, 5.5 percent of students – including 9.4 percent of males – have carried a gun in the last 30 days. Additionally, a study of teens between 2001 and 2004 found that one third of teens in the U.S. live in a house with a gun and, of those teens, 41 percent have easy access to that firearm.
Scary? I think so. While there are dangers in the world that are not preventable, many aspects of gun violence are, on both a local and policy levels.
One of the most effective ways to reduce gun violence is by limiting access to firearms in the home. While many people have concerns about having a gun for self-defense, studies have shown that guns are far more likely to be involved in suicide attempts, crimes, or accidents than in self-defense.
Gun clubs, which can store guns outside of the home, can be a good option for people that enjoy hunting and other activities that involve owning firearms. If you do choose to keep guns in your home, there are several critical steps to take to ensure that everyone in your home, including your teen, is safe.
Storage. Never allow your children or adolescents access to the guns in the home. Just telling teens or children not to touch a gun in the home is not sufficient. Lock your guns in a gun safe and make sure that your children do not know the combination or the location of the key. Ammunition should be stored and locked separately from where the guns are stored. Never keep your gun loaded in the house or car.
Trigger Locks. Purchase a trigger lock for your gun. Trigger locks fit over and through a gun’s trigger guard, which makes it so the gun cannot be fired. They are not meant to be used on loaded guns, which just re-affirms that guns should not be stored loaded.
When an adult is using a gun. When using a gun for hunting or target practice, learn how to operate the gun before it is ever loaded with ammunition. Be sure never to point guns at another person, even as a joke. Keep the safety catch in place until you are ready to fire your weapon, and always unload a gun when you are finished before setting it down. To protect those around you, never operate guns when you have used drugs or alcohol.
Outside your home. Even if you take steps to ensure that your home is firearm-free or to secure guns and ammunition in your home, it’s hard to guarantee that other households where your child spends time will do the same. Ask parents about guns in homes of your child’s friends and what precautions other families are using to limit access to firearms. And have a conversation with your teen about how to handle a situation if they encounter or are asked to handle a firearm at a friend’s house; like many instances involving peer-pressure, it can help to have an opportunity to talk about some ways out of the situation ahead of time.
Action at home is important in reducing gun violence, but changing policy and attitudes around gun are even more important. After a mass shooting in 1996, Australia took a number of steps at the policy level to increase gun control. While there is some controversy about the extent of the effect of these laws, it’s clear that they have drastically reduced firearm-related suicides and likely affected homicide rates as well, though homicide rates in Australia are low enough that this is effect is difficult to show.
Policy strategies that may help to reduce gun violence include background checks to people interested in purchasing firearms, waiting periods for gun purchases, limits on the number of guns purchased at one time to prevent trafficking, and safe storage requirements (see this well-reasoned opinion piece about the importance of gun control to learn more). Another important aspect is support for research about gun violence to determine which interventions and policies are most effective.
If we’re keeping the safety of our teens and children at the center of the conversation, it’s important to consider and learn more about changing the culture and policies around guns in the U.S. If you’re interested in learning more about organizations that advocate for public safety through support gun control, check out The Brady Campaign or the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.