It’s time to stop being in denial about gun violence

OPINION: It’s wrong and immoral to just shrug our shoulders and say the epidemic of gun deaths plaguing our nation is the price of freedom. 

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Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

After the July Fourth mass shooting in Highland Park near Chicago, you just might think, “How many more times?” And then you realize you’ve said that so many times that the real question is how many more times will we have to ask “How many more times”?

 The stance of pro-gun Second Amendment people is that tougher gun laws won’t be effective. They have a point on that one, but only because they water down every attempt to rein in gun violence to the point that it can’t be effective.

I just know that saying that nothing can be done guarantees that nothing will be done. Embracing hopelessness is not a solution. 

The statistics on gun deaths and injuries in the United States are horrifying, particularly for the Black community. Yet most elected Republican officials continue to place a higher priority on supporting gun manufacturers and gun rights extremists than on saving American lives.

While Blacks make up nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population, we account for a wildly disproportionate 62 percent of the 19,350 people killed in gun homicides in 2020, according to a report issued in May by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said the gun homicide rate for whites was 2.2 per 100,000—far less than the 26.6 per 100,000 for Blacks.

On top of this, Black Americans suffer 18 times the gun assault injuries and almost three times as many fatal shootings by police as whites. An average of 30 Black people are killed and over 110 are wounded by guns in the U.S. every day. One Black person is fatally shot by police every two days.  

“Longstanding systemic inequities and structural racism” are factors in the high rate of gun deaths and injuries among African Americans, the CDC concluded.

Of course, Americans of every ethnic background and every political affiliation are killed and injured by guns. Overall gun homicides rose 35 percent in 2020 in the final year of former President Donald Trump’s administration and the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, hitting their highest rate since 1994.

And while mass shootings—like those we’ve seen recently in Highland Park, at a supermarket in a Black neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas—understandably make big news, shootings claiming the lives of four or more people account for less than 1 percent of gun deaths in the U.S. 

Over 45,000 Americans of all races were killed annually by guns in 2020 and 2021. In the first six months of this year, more than 22,000 people were killed by guns. 

Suicides account for about 60 percent of all gun deaths. And while guns were used in only about 8 percent of suicide attempts in 2019, they accounted for more than half the suicide deaths that year.

There are an estimated 400 million guns in the U.S.—more guns than we have people. Buying a gun remains absurdly easy, including for dangerous individuals prone to violence.

It’s wrong and immoral to just shrug our shoulders and say the epidemic of gun deaths plaguing our nation is inevitable or the price of freedom. 

President Biden took a step forward when he signed a bipartisan gun safety bill into law in June, imposing the most significant gun restrictions in 28 years. A minority of Republicans joined every Democrat in the House and Senate in passing the measure.

The new law strengthens background checks for gun buyers under 21, provides billions of dollars for mental health services, makes it harder for domestic abusers to buy guns, and provides states with $750 million in grants for crisis intervention programs. It also requires more gun sellers to become licensed firearms dealers and run criminal background checks on buyers and creates penalties for “straw purchasers” who buy guns for others. 

However, congressional Republicans refused to go along with additional gun safety measures proposed by President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. These include banning assault weapons or at least barring their purchase by anyone under 21, banning high-capacity gun magazines, requiring criminal background checks for all gun buyers, allowing courts to order guns temporarily taken from people judged to be a danger to themselves or others, and repealing the immunity gun manufacturers have from legal liability when their guns are used in crimes.

Despite the hyperbolic claims of some Republicans, Democrats don’t want to repeal the Second Amendment to the Constitution (a practical impossibility) or confiscate the guns of law-abiding Americans.    

Yet most Republicans in Congress have embraced the wrongheaded and extremist belief that almost any restrictions on guns violate the Second Amendment, which states in its entirety: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” 

It’s important to understand that reducing gun deaths is more than a law enforcement issue. 

Communities need more violence-prevention programs to dissuade young people from joining gangs and committing crimes, more counselors and mental health professionals in schools, more job training programs, and increased funding for other anti-poverty and education programs as well. Democrats support programs like these, while most Republicans in Congress oppose them.

Republicans have also blocked efforts by the Biden-Harris administration to enact modest reforms to reduce police brutality and unjustified killings, such as the murders of George Floyd and other Black people. Despite false Republican claims that Democrats want to defund the police, the reform measure increased federal funding for police. It was supported by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Fraternal Order of Police.

The sad truth is that gun deaths and injuries will always be with us. But we can significantly reduce their number by adopting more gun safety measures, commonsense law enforcement reforms and measures encouraging communities to work together.

For this and other reasons, it’s important that we not allow partisanship to prevent us from reducing crime, increasing public safety and strengthening the health of our communities. 

Today, Japan is in shock over the fatal shooting of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In America, we’ve long since stopped being in shock over gun violence. Instead, we’re in denial. This must end now.

Donna Brazile Headshot

Donna Brazile is an ABC News Contributor, veteran political strategist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, and the King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard University. She previously served as interim Chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute. She managed the Gore campaign in 2000 and has lectured at more than 225 colleges and universities on race, diversity, women, leadership and restoring civility in politics. Brazile is the author of several books, including the New York Times’ bestseller “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House.” @DonnaBrazile

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