We need support to strengthen gun laws at every level, from within our own communities all the way to the halls of Congress.
ON a cool May morning in 2012, a man started a shooting spree at Cafe Racer in North Seattle that left five dead. In the months that followed, we saw more violence in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn. Then on June 12 we saw the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history in Orlando.
One-hundred-thirty-six mass shootings (four or more people wounded or killed) have happened in the United States this year.
Yet in the face of continued unspeakable acts of violence, Congress is poised to continue to do nothing. It’s wrong, and the American people deserve better.
In King County, more people are killed by gun violence than by car crashes. And about two-thirds of gun-related deaths are suicides. Violent incidents compelled King County Executive Dow Constantine and Metropolitan King County Council Chair Joe McDermott to declare gun violence a public-health crisis. The federal government must take the same approach to help prevent the nearly 90 deaths from guns and more than 200 nonfatal firearm injuries our country faces on an average day.
What is a public-health approach? It means studying gun violence to develop data-driven, evidence-based, community-informed prevention strategies.
It’s the same approach our country used to tackle car crashes as a leading cause of preventable death. In the last decade, we’ve seen a 25 percent decline in highway deaths, a continuation of a downward trend. This shift was made possible because we used data to inform reasonable regulations and approaches like requiring seat belts and air bags. We also changed roadway design to improve safety.
Just like these interventions, we can develop common-sense laws that allow lawful gun owners to continue using their guns for sport, hunting and self-protection.
Yet partisan gridlock in Congress has blocked any meaningful solutions to gun violence. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can’t even study it. So local jurisdictions are left to do what they can to protect their residents.
King County’s public-health approach can help us better understand at the local level the factors that contribute to this epidemic. But limited funding for gun-violence surveillance, research and prevention programs hampers our ability to ensure we have accurate information about the gun violence in our community and to fully implement solutions. Despite this, we are convening and engaging with partners to make progress.
We’ve expanded our LOK-IT-UP campaign, a partnership among public health, law enforcement, local government and retailers to promote the use of safe gun storage. This is important because we know gun theft happens frequently and because suicides — another form of violence — can be reduced by limiting access to lethal means.
We’re also encouraging all jurisdictions in King County to join the National Violent Death Reporting System, which will give officials a clear idea of the role firearms play in violent deaths.
These efforts are important. But local governments simply can’t do enough on their own to end gun violence.
We need to continue to strengthen existing laws, such as Washington’s new law that allows firearms to be removed in certain domestic-violence situations. We need to advocate for safer, “smarter” firearms, which can only be fired by authorized users. We need support at every level, from within our own communities all the way to the halls of Congress.
We are confident our nation can identify common-sense solutions like we have started to do in King County — solutions that can help to keep our community safer.
Ten years from now, we will look back at the things we did today with either dignity or regret. The choice is ours alone.