We’d like to have a conversation about practical ways to protect people from gun violence. Which may be easier said than done considering our Legislature is so “gun”-ho (pun fully intended) that it has proposed two pieces of legislation: One to prohibit officers from enforcing federal gun laws if those same laws don’t exist in the state constitution and another that would amend the state constitution to prohibit counties and municipalities from implementing their own firearm restrictions.
There are many ways we can address America’s gun problem — and yes, it is a problem — but none of those involve completely eliminating government oversight, as the West Virginia Legislature proposes.
Let’s be clear: No one wants to take away the guns you use for hunting or the handguns you use for self-defense. But no one can deny that gun violence has long plagued America. School shootings and mass shootings are so common, we’re almost desensitized to their horror. But mass shootings — while widely publicized — only make up a fraction of gun deaths. In 2021 alone, the Gun Violence Archive has tracked 10,459 gun-related deaths. Almost 6,000 of those were suicides; the remainder were homicides, unintentional deaths or deaths that occurred during defensive gun use. These statistics don’t count injuries, only fatalities.
Sixty-eight of the deaths so far this year have been children.
One of the more than 12,000 gun-related deaths in 2014 was 11-year-old Tyler Paxton, of South Carolina. Paxton was the son of an avid shooter, though the child had shown little interest in guns himself, and he’d been educated about and trained to use his father’s rifles and revolver. Five days after his birthday, Paxton unlocked his father’s gun cabinet — the key for which merely sat on top of said cabinet — took out the loaded revolver and shot himself in the head. He did not survive. His is just one story discussed in the book “Children under Fire: An American Crisis.”
According to a 2019 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, the single most accurate factor in predicting a state’s youth suicide rate is the proportion of households that contain a firearm. There is one very simple preventative measure: Locking up all the guns in a home, and making sure kids can’t get to the key. A study shared by JAMA Pediatrics found that just locking away firearms in a home can decrease a child’s risk of gun-related death (either by accident or suicide) by up to 32%. A Washington Post review found that in 105 school shootings, 80% of the time, the firearm used belonged to the shooter’s parents or another relative. But there has to be incentive to lock up the guns — such as negligent storage laws that can hold adults responsible for not properly securing their firearms.
Despite the way it looks in the halls of our state and national capitols, the majority of Americans support at least some form of gun control: According to a PBS/NPR poll from 2019, 83% of adults support background checks for private and gun show sales; 72% support requiring a license before purchasing a firearm; and 72% support creating a national “red flag” law, which would “allow family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily remove guns from a person who is seen to be a risk to themselves or others,” according to NPR.
After the Atlanta and Boulder shootings, one congressman tried to divert the conversation about gun reform by saying drunk drivers kill a lot of people and maybe we should look into that. So let’s take a look: In 2019, there were 36,096 car-related deaths, according to the IIHS. That same year, the Gun Violence Archive recorded 39,532 gun-related deaths. And yet, to drive a car, you have to have a license, which requires you to pass a written exam, a driving exam and an eye exam, and that license must be renewed every few years. You also have to register your car and have it insured. If you drive while intoxicated, your license can be revoked.
Guns kill more people than cars, but are subject to virtually no regulations.
For some reason, gun-rights advocates insist that the 2nd Amendment gives every American an unrestricted right to have whatever and as many firearms as they want, and that any attempt to create commonsense gun laws is an outright ban. The majority of America disagrees: You can have your gun, or guns, but that doesn’t mean everyone can have unfettered access to a deadly weapon. It’s time the few stop holding the many hostage at gun point.