Once again, last week the nation was rocked by a tragic incident of gun violence. It was noteworthy because it targeted elected officials, reminding us how fragile we are as a nation during a time of unprecedented discord. The commentary following this disturbing violence has focused on the need for civility in our public discourse with surprisingly little said about gun violence. It would be frightening if the lack of mention about gun violence was an indicator that we have accepted such incidents as part of our normal way of life.
With this as a backdrop, a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, “Guns kill nearly 1,300 children in the US each year and send thousands more to hospitals,” only emphasizes the tremendous risk of harm that the most vulnerable children experience on a daily basis. Without effectively addressing gun violence, we only increase the probability that the alarming rise in gun-related child suicides and other firearm-related deaths of children will go unabated. This article identified a population of children and youth only too familiar to us at Hillsides and reinforces the concern that these children are at risk of experiencing such violence. It is unacceptable for anyone to live in fear of intentional or accidental firearm-related violence, whether you are a member of Congress or an unsuspecting child caught in a cross fire.
As always in this kind of situation, the mental well-being of the perpetrator is questioned and often found to be unstable. Certainly, easy access to effective mental health services is part of the solution when addressing how to reduce the risk of gun-related violence. However, the impact of mental health treatment is limited by inadequate diagnosis, insufficient funding, limited access, and the ongoing stigma associated with mental illness. There is no question that the ability to provide effective early interventions to support people challenged by mental illness is an important aspect in reducing any risk due to access to firearms. However, this alone is not sufficient to address this issue.
In spite of many protocols in place to control the purchase of firearms, guns continue to be relatively accessible for either sport or self-defense. Proper storage and access is dependent on the judgement and practice of owners. The unqualified right to bear arms coupled with a culture entertained by gratuitous violence is a lethal formula that has resulted in the highest rate of gun-related deaths of any other developed nation. Studies indicate that the U.S. accounts for 91% of all firearm- related deaths of children under 14 among the world’s 23 richest countries.
Perhaps because of the political climate, it is unrealistic to assume that those mercilessly targeted by a mad man might discuss gun control. However, the failure to do so will ensure that this kind of violence will be repeated. The odds are that those who will suffer the ramifications of such inaction will be poor, vulnerable children and youth, and those who are emotionally fragile. The refusal to act to address this issue assures that our communities will continue to be shattered by random violence, and all because of the lack of political resolve to safeguard the right to bear arms in a way that also assures the safety and well-being of all, especially the most vulnerable.