Public-health education, use of new technology and common-sense gun laws can reduce gun-related deaths and shootings.
GUN violence is like cancer: It comes in many different varieties and there is no single panacea to eliminate it.
But as businessmen with a combined 20 years on the front lines of this battle, we believe we can cut America’s 32,000 annual death toll in half in 10 years with a three-pronged approach.
• Public-health education:
About one-third of all homes in America possess a handgun and there is no better predictive metric to reducing gun violence. Those states that have the highest percentage of handgun ownership also have the highest percentage of gun violence, and vice versa. Research by David Hemenway of Harvard has shown that you are 22 times more likely to kill a family member or a friend versus an intruder with a gun in the home, and five times more likely to have a suicide.
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A recent national poll by Washington CeaseFire of 508 homeowners shows that 70 percent of respondents either didn’t know these statistics or didn’t believe them. We envision an extensive public-health campaign on the same scale as the successful smoking campaign 50 years ago, aimed at getting the facts out on home gun ownership.
The effort would also encourage safe storage of handguns as well as a discussion among neighbors of which homes possess firearms. That’s especially important since our own research shows only 12 percent of parents currently ask their neighbors, though there are an estimated 2 million homes in this country with unlocked guns and children under 18.
We believe, over a 10-year span, it’s reasonable based on other public-health efforts to see a 20 percent drop or more in in-home gun ownership and up to 5,000 or more lives saved annually from fewer suicides, child gun accidents and domestic violence.
Technology has played a vital role in the 50 percent drop in auto deaths over the past 30 years. New smart gun technology featuring proven Radio-frequency-identification technology and operable only by the authorized user can similarly reduce gun deaths as well. Encouragingly, recent research of 615 U.S. adults by the firm Penn Schoen Berland found that 54 percent of gun owners under the age of 45 would consider swapping their old gun for a smart gun.
It’s reasonable to believe that smart guns could save up to 10,000 lives annually by reducing suicide deaths (approximately 9,500 Americans commit suicide every year with a firearm they do not own), as well as childhood accidents and fatalities involving stolen guns. Up to now, smart gun distribution has been stalled by a controversial New Jersey Law as well as limited availability. Both issues are expected to be resolved in the coming year
• Common-sense legislation:
Gun laws are effective, but difficult to achieve in the current polarized political climate. There is reason to believe that common ground can be found, such as the agreement achieved in 2009 between Washington Ceasefire and the National Rifle Association on taking gun rights away from people suffering from mental illness who are committed to a care facility for 30 days or more. California has a new law that allows a family to take away gun rights for up to a year for a family member with known mental-health issues. Perhaps such legislation might have prevented several mass shootings, including those at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, Cafe Racer in Seattle, and more recently at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
There is other legislation that has a reasonable chance of passage in many states, if not nationally, including a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and tougher requirements for concealed weapons permits.
Gun violence is like cancer, but it’s a public-health disease that other modern societies have addressed. The American gun death rate is almost 20 times that of other nations. Our “Operation Ceasefire” offers what we believe is an effective mix of public education, technology and common-ground legislation. It respects the Second Amendment as well as the lives and safety of our children. We believe it represents a path forward that can leave future generations here in Washington and across America much safer.