Let’s start with some interesting facts:
For the past 20 years, an average of over 30,000 people have been killed in the United States each year with guns. That’s 600,000 people in total.
At present, an estimated 50 million American households own approximately 250 million guns, with the number of firearms purchased rising 4 million annually, according to Gallup polls and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Juxtaposing these two sets of statistics suggests that most gun owners are responsible gun owners. It also proves that our country is awash in guns.
Aside from the prevalence of guns in our society, there are clearly significant problems with gun use. Over 4,000 people in the U.S. have been killed by guns since Newtown, at a pace of 83 per day. On average, one child under 14 years old is killed each day with a gun. For the 16- to 24-year-old cohort, 16 young adults on average are killed each day by guns. Recently, we’ve heard the story of the 15-year-old girl who marched in the Presidential Inauguration parade, only to be randomly shot a week later in Chicago. Last month, a 13-year-old boy in Boston was shot and killed while walking to church.
Of course the availability of guns is not the only reason why so much violence occurs in U.S. society. Underlying causes include the lack of mental health treatment, poverty, the illegal drug trade and violence in our media, among other factors.
In 2010, over 38,000 people committed suicide, almost half using guns. Over the past several years, however, funding for mental health services at the state and federal levels has in effect been reduced.
Between 25 percent and 50 percent of gunshot murders are drug-related killings, according to one of the best studies of the topic, a 1994 U.S. Department of Justice report. And why is illegal drug selling so prominent, particularly in our cities? Because all too often selling drugs appears to be the fastest and most promising path of opportunity for urban young men who want to leave poverty behind.
Hollywood’s latest blockbuster hope stars Sylvester Stallone in a movie entitled "Bullet in the Head." And interestingly, the hyper-violent video games industry in the U.S. is two times bigger than the film industry: $25 billion last year spent by Americans on video games and consoles, compared to $12 billion spent at the box office. And here’s a list of some of the top selling video games: "World of Warcraft," "Grand Theft Auto," "Red Dead Redemption," and "Assassin's Creed." With all the violence embedded in these video games played by hundreds of thousands of American teenagers, is there a social good that this industry is providing our society?
Are all these seemingly disparate facets of our society — guns, mental health, drugs, poverty, violent media — related in some way? To me, this question seems worthy of debate, and I welcome your views on it.
At the local level, who have Class A gun licenses, which allows them to have high-powered, high-capacity magazine firearms in their homes.
How many of these guns are stored at the gun clubs, and how many are in homes that our children visit? Should we ask the parents of our children’s friends whether they have guns in their houses?
Several new bills have been introduced in the Massachusetts legislature that seek to reduce gun violence in our commonwealth. The two most prominent, one offered by Rep. David Linsky and the other by Gov. Deval Patrick, can be found via www.mass.gov. They include the following provisions:
- close loopholes in existing state laws related to the statewide 1994 ban on assault weapons;
- require more detailed mental health background checks;
- strengthen gun storage requirements;
- enhance public safety measures in school areas;
- require liability insurance for gun owners;
- reduce access to high-powered rounds of ammunition;
- reduce the sale and purchase of illegal firearms;
- enhance our mental health services:
- bring Massachusetts into compliance with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS); and
- limit gun buyers to one firearm purchase per month.
Over the past few weeks, I have received two types of commentary on these bills from constituents in Marlborough, Sudbury, Framingham and Wayland. Responsible gun owners have made articulate, measured and detailed appeals for preserving gun owner rights. Gun control advocates, on the other hand, have made passionate appeals for further restrictions on gun ownership and access here in Massachusetts, while also pointing out that we need stronger federal gun control laws and enhanced efforts to stop illegal gun trafficking.
The debate on gun violence will evolve over the next few months in our commonwealth. There will be anti-violence marches in Boston and rallies at the State House. If you’re interested in shaping public policy in your government, get involved. Send me an email. Contact your senators and congressman or congresswoman. Lend your voice to making this the best country it can be.
Tom Conroy is state representative for the 13th Middlesex District and can be reached at Thomas.Conroy@MAHouse.gov or 617-722-2430.