This year looks set to be a record year for mass shootings in the US, a distinction that no country would ever desire. As the country prepares for midterm elections in November, it faces an epidemic of such attacks at a time of major divisions in the country.
Congress last month passed a gun-control bill, the nation’s most significant firearms legislation in nearly 30 years, which President Joe Biden signed on Jun. 25 to much fanfare from advocates of stricter controls on the ownership of weapons.
It introduces tougher background checks on younger buyers and also encourages states to restrict gun ownership among people deemed to pose a potential threat to themselves or others.
Gun violence, at both the individual and community levels, is a critical public health problem that needs to be addressed urgently. What is necessary is greater public interest in efforts to combat violence in all its forms, from bullying to gang violence to childhood trauma. Research shows that different forms of violence tend to occur together. In other words, places with higher rates of gun violence are also places with higher rates of domestic violence, child abuse, and other kinds of assaults.
At the community level it is necessary to examine the root causes of mass shootings and the behavior of individuals who show signs that they might be capable of such crimes, in an effort to nip potential problems in the bud. Such efforts are not easy, nor are the results immediate; it can take years to show results but efforts to protect families with young children through outreach can create lasting change.
Democrats in the US have taken major steps to hold US gun manufacturers liable in a real and forceful way for producing the weapons that have killed so many innocents. The CEOs of three companies are due to testify before Congress during a hearing on gun violence at the end of this month. Five US gun manufacturers — Daniel Defense, Bushmaster, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson, and Sturm, Ruger & Company — are being asked to explain their policies.
Congress is gathering financial and marketing information from these companies about their sales of weapons of war in the US, including assault weapons of the kinds used in the recent mass murders in Highland Park and Uvalde. Such weapons sold by the US gun companies have been used for decades in homicides and even mass murders, yet the manufacturers continue to market these assault weapons to civilians.
This congressional process will take time and be influenced by subsequent shootings and other issues that split Americans, such as abortion. Any results of the investigation, such as additional levels of liability for gun manufacturers or potential remedies for mass shootings, will only take effect after the midterm elections in November this year. Therefore 2023 will be a key year in terms of whether or not we see any decrease in America’s gun crime epidemic.
In addition to the mass shootings, we also the everyday examples of gun crime in America. Many of these cases involve seemingly mundane disputes that quickly spiral out of control until someone reaches for a gun. Often, the victim and the shooter know each another; they might be co-workers, acquaintances, siblings or neighbors. They are killed in farming villages, small towns and crowded cities.
This is why community activism, combined with working with gun manufacturers to develop social-assistance programs that perhaps the US Congress can make legal requirements, would be a positive step forward.
Yet there are major cultural hurdles in the US that efforts to reduce gun violence must clear. Some Americans are deeply fond of their firearms; there are more guns in the US than people, even though only a third of households own them.
We need a new approach to the shooting epidemic. Law enforcement needs better tools and more latitude to monitor social media, using sophisticated programs that can help identify the tell-tale signs of potential shooters. The US technology industry, which is involved in social media analysis, needs to develop partnerships with states and schools to help mitigate potential threats.
But with 370 million guns in circulation in the country, and various other issues dividing the nation under Biden, time is of the essence.