With gun control stalled, how else can gun violence be prevented?

·Senior Editor
·6-min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

A bipartisan group of senators in Washington has spent weeks searching for an agreement on legislation that could help curb America’s enduring epidemic of gun violence. While it’s unclear what provisions might end up in the final deal, if one is reached at all, some of the more far-reaching reforms championed by gun control advocates — like an assault weapons ban — will almost certainly not be included.

“We are not talking about restricting the rights of current, law-abiding gun owners or citizens,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is leading the negotiations for Republicans, said in a speech on the Senate floor Monday.

The United States is unique among high-income nations in both the large number of guns owned by its citizens and the scale of gun violence they experience. Though mass shootings like the recent massacres in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, N.Y., draw the most attention, they represent a small fraction of annual gun deaths in the U.S. More than half of the roughly 45,000 firearms deaths in 2020 were suicides. The bulk of homicides each year stem from street crime or domestic violence.

Despite strong public support for a range of gun control measures, unified Republican opposition has meant that repeated efforts to impose new limits on gun access in the wake of mass shootings have failed.

Why there’s debate

While many assert that the prevalence of guns is the core of the problem, experts say there are proven ways to reduce America’s extraordinary levels of gun violence even without new gun control laws.

Researchers have spent decades studying the types of interventions that can lower levels of violence in the neighborhoods that experience the greatest burden of gun crimes and homicides. Many say there’s strong evidence that violence intervention programs run by community members, schools and medical professionals can steer young men — who are disproportionately likely to both commit and be the victims of gun violence — away from future violence.

Many conservatives, on the other hand, argue that any realistic plan to reduce gun violence must include an aggressive campaign to get the countless number of illegally owned guns off the streets through targeted enforcement in high-violence areas. Others say relatively uncontroversial reforms, like safe-storage mandates, can significantly lower rates of suicide and domestic gun violence.

Many also make the case that gun violence is a symptom of much deeper problems in American society, in particular the stark inequality in the U.S. They argue that truly addressing the root causes of gun violence will require increasing economic opportunity, improving health care access, reforming the criminal justice system and countering cultural forces that predispose young men to violence.

Perspectives

Inequality is the primary root cause of U.S. gun violence

“Systemic inequality creates the underfunded schools that produce criminals. It also creates communities without adequate resources and disparities in health, wealth, housing, and employment. Perhaps most damning, systemic inequality creates people who believe that their only way out of their current situation is with a gun.” — Solomon Jones, Philadelphia Inquirer

Gun violence should be treated as a public health crisis

There isn’t a single solution to reducing the disease of gun violence. However, when risks seem pervasive and cures seem impossible, the health care community focuses on what can be done for the patient, the family, and the community. Maybe it’s time to bring health care logic to the gun violence conversation.” — Alex Johnson, Boston Globe

Neighborhood revitalization has a measurable impact on community violence

“In large cities, a small number of streets account for an outsize number of violent crimes. Those streets are usually in segregated Black neighborhoods that, because of structural racism, have suffered from decades of disinvestment and physical and economic decline. … Without changing these physical spaces in which crime occurs, violence-prevention efforts are incomplete.” — Eugenia C. South, New York Times

Offering help, not punishment, to troubled kids can get them off a violent path

“By treating mental health problems and improving would-be attackers’ educational, employment, or living circumstances, threat assessment teams have ­prevented dozens of potential shootings at schools and workplaces throughout the country, including a variety I learned about from leaders in the field and confidential case files.” — Mark Follman, Mother Jones

Gun violence is directly tied to lack of health care access

“Expanding access to health care, including through Medicaid, reduces crime, particularly violent crime. The mechanisms are likely access to mental health care and substance abuse treatment. … So really simple changes, like increasing access for kids that were getting this kind of treatment, could be extremely effective.” — Jennifer Doleac, violent-crime researcher, to Vox

Promoting safe storage of guns will save lives

“Safe storage is one of the most important things that we can do to reduce risk of firearm suicide and homicide. Most youths who kill themselves with a gun use a family member’s gun. … In order to get folks to store guns safely, policies can make a difference. But more important is the firearm-owning community standing up for how important safe storage is.” — Megan Ranney, public health researcher, to Atlantic

People who live in the hardest-hit communities must be at the center of anti-violence programs

“Community gun violence, the everyday gun violence that accounts for the vast majority of homicides in our country — most of that violence is perpetrated with guns that are already illegal, so there you need partnerships and community groups to identify those at the highest risk for violence and engage them and give them a series of carrots and sticks to change their behavior.” — Thomas Abt, violent-crime researcher, to CBS News

Reducing gun violence requires more policing, not less

“You get illegal guns off the street, including, yes, using stop-and-frisk tactics. You bust people who hop turnstiles or commit other petty crimes. You check for outstanding warrants. … It all adds up to putting fear into the hearts of would-be criminals again, to make people think twice about committing crimes. A little enforcement can go a long way sometimes.” — Tom Wrobleski, Staten Island Advance

Lawmakers must break the cycle of violence created by our criminal justice system

“Gun viol­ence and mass incar­cer­a­tion are both propag­ated and rein­forced by policies that punish lower-income communit­ies of color. In other words, the solu­tion to one prob­lem cannot be achieved by exacer­bat­ing the other.” — Taylor King, Brennan Center for Justice

Kids need much better access to mental health care

“Adolescents in particular are really struggling from a mental health standpoint, and they need a lot more than they’re getting. Those public health approaches can go a long way in preventing these horrible tragedies.” — Daniel Webster, public health researcher, to ABC News

Young men need stronger family and community support

“What I do know … is that children need fathers, and they need to be a part of a community that will protect and care for them and, most importantly, hold them accountable — whether that’s a church, a soccer team, or a close-knit neighborhood. They need to be surrounded by adults who will teach them the importance of individual responsibility and who will step in when necessary.” — Kaylee McGhee White, Washington Examiner

Schools must recognize their students’ humanity and teach them to recognize it in others

“First, educators at all levels must create inclusive educational settings. It is imperative that every student feels valued and affirmed. Further, all students need to feel a sense of belonging to the school culture. Secondly, educators must teach empathy.” — Joseph R. Jones, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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