After the mass shootings at Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Americans again remembered that we have a problem. The cause was harder to define, even though the common denominator for mass shootings is guns.
Can’t we at least consider some common-sense approaches to gun control?
We’re not talking about a knee-jerk response that makes people feel safer but doesn’t work. Those types of action only result in a loss of individual freedoms. But a rational approach based on research may have a positive effect.
Here’s an example of one study, published this year in the Journal of General Internal Medicine by authors Michael Siegel, Molly Pahn, Ziming Xuan, Eric Fleegler and David Hemenway. Its title: The Impact of State Firearm Laws on Homicide and Suicide Deaths in the USA, 1991–2016: a Panel Study. The panel analyzed the relationship between 10 state firearm laws and total, age-adjusted homicide and suicide rates from 1991 to 2016. They controlled for a range of state-level factors, such as gun ownership, alcohol use, unemployment and poverty rate.
CityLab summarized the results in layman’s terms, saying the study found conclusive evidence that states with stricter gun-control laws have lower rates of both murders and suicides. The study looked at 10 types of gun-control measures including universal background checks, age limits for handgun purchases, concealed-carry laws, assault-weapon bans, prohibiting purchases for those who have committed violent crimes, stand-your-ground laws, and bans on large-capacity ammunition magazines.
As CityLab concluded, “... gun control works... (and) particular kinds of gun-control measures are significantly more effective than others. In fact, three types of restrictions are most effective, individually and in combination, in reducing the overall homicide rate. ...
“States with all three of the most effective measures — universal background checks, bans on violent offenders, and ‘may-issue’ laws (which give police discretion in issuing concealed-carry permits) — had homicide rates that were 36% lower. States with two of these measures had 13% lower rates, and those with just one had 6% lower rates.”
Gallop Polls on gun ownership and laws have been conducted for decades. The answers to some questions can fluctuate significantly from year to year. An example is this question: “In general, do you feel that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, less strict or kept as they are now?” Often the majority (more than 50 percent) said gun laws should be “more strict.” But a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, only 43 percent said gun laws should be “more strict” and 44 percent said “kept as now.”
To the question “Please tell me whether you favor or oppose each of the following approaches to prevent mass shootings at schools.” (March 5-11, 2018), the most favored choices were:
• Increased training for police officers and first responders on how to respond to active shootings (95% favored)
• Requiring background checks for all gun sales (92%)
• Installing more security checkpoints and security systems for allowing people into schools (87%)
• Instituting new programs to identify, assess and manage certain students who may pose a threat (86%)
• Raising the legal age at which people can purchase certain firearms from 18 to 21 (68%)
People were also asked: “Do you think each of the following would be very effective, somewhat effective, not too effective or not effective at all in preventing mass shootings at schools?”
• Requiring background checks for all gun sales (very effective 70%, not effective at all 5%)
• Increased training for police officers and first responders on how to respond to active shootings (60-5)
• Installing more security checkpoints and security systems for allowing people into schools (54-6)
• Instituting new programs to identify, assess and manage certain students who may pose a threat (52-6)
With so many people behind at least some of these suggestions and research supplying evidence that some measures do have an impact, we should expect our lawmakers to act accordingly.
Author's note: This column originally contained more information from Gallop polls but was edited for length. It also noted that guns are not the only weapons used to kill people. This week a man went on a two-hour stabbing and robbery rampage in Southern California, killing four people and wounding two others.