The Threats We Know (and the Ones We Don’t)

On February 14th, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida became the ninth mass shooting of the past 12 months and the 290th school shooting since the tragedy of Newtown.

A week later, with students from Parkland watching, Florida lawmakers rejected a motion to even consider a bill that would ban assault rifles. They did, however, pass a resolution declaring pornography a public health risk.

A public health risk declaration draws attention to an issue and, more importantly, indicates funds should be allocated to its prevention. After scores of trending hashtags, of neighborhoods and cities becoming synonymous with tragedies, the right time to declare gun violence a public health crisis has long passed. Two-thirds of all homicides and more than half of all suicides in the US are attributed to gun violence. Yet—in a problem that is uniquely American—we continue our toxic relationship with firearms and deny its place as a public health epidemic. We have to continue to pressure lawmakers into devoting their time, attention, and funds to one of the most pressing issues facing us today.

In order to prevent further mass shootings, we must focus on their causes and correlations. As we’ve seen time and time again, red flags and indicators often begin with violence toward women. More than half of mass shootings were related to domestic or family violence and more than 80 percent of people killed by firearms annually in the US by intimate partners are women.

The threat of guns to women’s health is paramount and the surrounding statistics are staggering: 

  • Women in the US are 16 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries.¹
  • Victims of domestic violence are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a gun.
  • About 4.5 million American women report that they have had an intimate partner threaten them with a gun.
  • On average, a woman in the US is fatally shot by her current or former intimate partner every 16 hours.

With all of these numbers, it’s clear that something should have been done a long time ago. And though our current data is disconcerting, we still don’t have the research to understand the threat that guns pose to many marginalized communities. I couldn’t definitively tell you if immigrant women are affected more by gun violence. Nor could I give you statistics of how often members of the transgender community are threatened with firearms. I couldn’t tell you the scope of how women with disabilities are affected by guns. Often times, our communities who need the most attention are the ones we let slip through the cracks.

We’re missing so many statistics and numbers in part due to the Dickey Amendment, an annual appropriations rider that prevents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from spending money on advocating for gun control. While the amendment was not explicitly drafted to ban all research on gun violence, that has been its practical impact, with an undeniable ripple effect on both public and private research. This absence of research creates a widening void of information and makes it more difficult to incite a call for action. Particularly for lawmakers, hard numbers and facts are necessary to advocate for and push legislation. To better protect the margins of society, we need to greatly increase the range of research on gun violence. Gun violence affects everyone, but in such a number of dimensions that more data is needed to adequately work with every community.

While knowing is half the battle, there’s still another half to fight. Calling for increased research is important, but we can also call for concrete policy changes based on the information we already have. Our statistics mean nothing if we don’t act on them.

After seeing so many tragedies, after feeling my heart burdened with the names of so many victims, I can’t help but feel that something is different this time. In the days after Parkland, the conversation is changing and our political leaders know it.

This is the final straw, the levy breaking, whatever idiom you need to emphasize that we are done. We will not go gentle into that good night; we are fighting back. This will be the last one and we are going to make sure of that.

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¹Grinshteyn, E., & Hemenway, D. (2016). Violent death rates: the US compared with other high-income OECD countries, 2010. The American journal of medicine, 129(3), 266-273