South Asian Insider
America's Gun Problem is Simply Unacceptable
US needs Action on Gun Violence (SAI Bureau) New York: Gun violence in the United States results in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries annually. Every day, 100 Americans are killed with guns and hundreds more are shot and injured. The effects of gun violence extend far beyond these casualties—gun violence shapes the lives of millions of Americans who witness it, know someone who was shot, or live in fear of the next shooting. About 1.4 million people have died from firearms in the U.S. between 1968 and 2011. This number includes all deaths resulting from a firearm, including suicides, homicides, and accidents. Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the U.S. gun-related homicide rate is 25 times higher. Although it has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, the U.S. had 82 percent of all gun deaths, 90 percent of all women killed with guns, 91 percent of children under 14 and 92 percent of young people between ages 15 and 24 killed with guns. Gun violence against other persons is most common in poor urban areas and frequently associated with gang violence, often involving male juveniles or young adult males.Although mass shootings are covered extensively in the media, mass shootings in the United States account for only a small fraction of gun-related deaths. School shootings are described as a "uniquely American crisis", according to The Washington Post in 2018. Kids at U.S. schools have active shooter drills. According to USA Today, in 2019 “about 95% of public schools now have students and teachers practice huddling in silence, hiding from an imaginary gunman.” Legislation at the federal, state, and local levels has attempted to address gun violence through a variety of methods, including restricting firearms purchases by youths and other "at-risk" populations, setting waiting periods for firearm purchases, establishing gun buyback programs, law enforcement and policing strategies, stiff sentencing of gun law violators, education programs for parents and children, and community-outreach programs. Despite widespread concern about the impacts of gun violence on public health, Congress has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from conducting research that advocates in favor of gun control.[ The CDC has interpreted this ban to extend to all research on gun violence prevention, and so has not funded any research on this subject since 1996. How Likely Is the Risk of Being Shot in America It Depends 69 People Have Been Killed in Mass Shootings in 2019 Alone. Still reeling after two mass shootings in early August resulted in 31 deaths in two states over a span of less than 24 hours, the U.S. has been rocked by another gun rampage in West Texas that left 7 people dead and many more injured Before gunfire tore through a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest country-music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, Jonathan Smith was not scared of guns. As bullets rained down around him, the father of three raced toward danger, lifting strangers who had fallen to the ground and rousing others who were too frozen in fear to run. But then he was shot. Around him, 58 people were killed and almost 500 were wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Smith survived, but the 32-year-old from California, who still has a bullet lodged in his neck, now trembles when he hears anything that resembles the sound of gunshots, like fireworks or even helicopters. “I kind of shut down a little bit,” he says. “Once you have something piercing through your skin and you can smell it burning, then you’ll know what fear feels like.” Smith is not alone in his fears. Today, 59% of Americans say random acts of violence like mass shootings committed by Americans in the U.S. pose the biggest safety threat to them, compared to 16% who fear terrorism attacks by foreigners on U.S. soil and 25% who fear attacks by religious extremists on U.S. soil, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted after 31 people died in back-to-back shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. The poll also found that 78% of Americans believe another such attack will likely unfold in the next three months, with 49% of those respondents considering it highly likely. Another recent poll indicated one-third of U.S. adults are so stressed by the prospect of mass shootings that they avoid visiting certain places or attending certain events. So far this year, there have been more than 250 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a widely cited nonprofit that counts incidents in which at least four people other than the shooter were injured or killed. In the wake of the massacres in Texas and Ohio, Amnesty International, the human rights group, warned travelers to “exercise caution” when visiting the U.S. due to its gun violence problem. “A guarantee of not being shot is impossible,” said Ernest Coverson, an Amnesty campaign manager. Japan, Venezuela and Uruguay have also issued similar travel advisories following the shootings. With more than 265 million civilian-owned guns in circulation in America, should you be afraid of them? It’s hard to say, since the question is so broad, the phobia so personal and the topic so polarizing. Studies on this issue have also been scarce since Congress voted in 1996 to limit the scope of research into gun deaths and injuries by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "A guarantee of not being shot is impossible." Statistically, the average American has a greater risk of dying from heart disease or cancer than from a firearm, according to the National Safety Council. Car crashes also kill about the same number of people in the U.S. as guns do each year, CDC statistics show. In 2017, firearms killed 39,773 people and traffic deaths killed 38,659; in 2016, firearms killed 38,658 and traffic deaths totaled 38,748. Other figures also paint a stark reality of the uniquely American threat. People in the U.S. are 25 times more likely to die from gun homicide than people in other wealthy countries, a 2016 study in the American Journal of Medicine found. In 2017, the most recent year with available data, nearly 40,000 people in the U.S. died from firearm injuries, more than eight times the number of U.S. military members who died overseas during Operation Iraqi Freedom between 2003 and 2010. Most of the U.S. gun deaths in 2017 were suicides, but statistics show that if someone is murdered in the U.S., there’s a high probability it will be with a gun. According to an FBI breakdown of homicides, more than 70% of murder victims were killed by firearms in 2017. To some extent, the answer of whether you should be afraid of guns may depend on whom you ask. In TIME’s Nov. 5, 2018 cover issue on guns in America, which featured perspectives of 245 people, many firearm owners said they felt safer with a gun and believed people would be less afraid if they became more familiar with them. A 2017 Gallup poll that measured Americans’ anxiety levels after the Las Vegas massacre also found gun owners were significantly less worried about mass shootings. Students participate in a protest against gun violence in Los Angeles, California on March 14, 2018. Ronen Tivony—NurPhoto/Getty Images Criminologists and other experts who study U.S. violence say the fear of guns may be more warranted in certain parts of the country, specifically low-income areas within cities. According to the CDC, about 14,500 Americans were murdered with guns in 2017. More than half were young black men killed in metro areas, which has been the pattern for at least the last five years, data shows. “Firearm violence and firearm injuries take different forms, depending on where you live, your gender, your race and ethnicity and your age,” says Phoenix-based criminologist Jesenia Pizarro, who is studying firearm injuries and deaths among children and teens as part of a National Institutes of Health-funded research consortium. “If you’re a racial minority who lives in an inner city that has a high crime rate,” she adds, “then the levels of fear are more heightened, and the actual data would support that it is something you should actually be concerned about.” From a psychological standpoint, experts say it’s easy to develop a fear of guns when mass shootings are carried out in what should be safe spaces, like schools and places of worship—and seemingly often. On June 17, 2015, nine black worshippers were killed inside the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Two years later, at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a gunman killed 26 congregants, including a pregnant woman, her unborn child and a toddler who was wrapped in her dying father’s arms. Seventeen students and teachers were fatally shot on Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which was once named the safest city in the state. Later that year, 10 students and teachers were gunned down at Santa Fe High School in Texas. “People overestimate how likely it is to happen to them because they can easily think of an example,” says social psychologist Frank McAndrew. “When they think of how likely am I to be killed in a mass shooting, they can think of all the examples of mass shootings they’ve seen in the news.” The day-to-day probability of being involved in a random high-casualty attack in public is still low, McAndrew says. The fear of guns, he adds, is perhaps misdirected when statistics show Americans have a higher chance of harming themselves intentionally or loved ones accidentally at home from firearms. “There is reason to be afraid,” McAndrew says, “but the most common kinds of things that kill people are the ones that everybody believes isn’t going to happen to them.” In a direct and urgent call to address gun violence in America, the chief executives of some of the nation’s best-known companies sent a letter to Senate leaders on Thursday, urging an expansion of background checks to all firearms sales and stronger “red flag” laws. Action demanded on gun violence. “Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable,” the corporate chiefs urged senators in a letter. “Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety,” the heads of nearly 150 companies, including Levi Strauss, Twitter and Uber, say in the letter, which was shared with The New York Times. The letter — which urges the Republican-controlled Senate to enact bills already introduced in the Democrat-led House of Representatives — is the most concerted effort by the business community to enter the gun debate, one of the most polarizing issues in the nation and one that was long considered off limits. The debate and the decision to sign — or not sign — are a case study in how chief executives must weigh their own views and the political risks to their businesses. “To a certain extent, these C.E.O.s are putting their businesses on the line here, given how politically charged this is,” said Chip Bergh, chief executive of Levi Strauss, a company whose denim jeans have long been a symbol of America. Mr. Bergh spent the last several days trying to cajole his peers into joining him and gun control advocates like Everytown, which is funded in part by Michael Bloomberg. “Business leaders are not afraid to get engaged now,” he added. “C.E.O.s are wired to take action on things that are going to impact their business and gun violence is impacting everybody’s business now.” Mr. Bergh said he was encouraged by the conversations. “The tide is turning,” he said, citing a spate of recent polls that show a majority of Americans in both parties support background checks and red flag laws. “People were starting to be much more open-minded,” he said, even when the discussion didn’t conclude with a signature. Yet he is also bracing for a backlash. “This has been spun by the N.R.A. as we’re trying to repeal the Second Amendment,” Mr. Bergh said. “Nothing is further from the truth.” The movement has gained momentum since last month, when a shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso killed 22 people. A day later, nine people were shot and killed in Dayton, Ohio. “Gun violence in America is not inevitable; it’s preventable,” the business leaders wrote. “We need our lawmakers to support common-sense gun laws that could prevent tragedies like these.” In addition to the expanded background checks, they are pressing the government to let federal courts issue temporary orders keeping guns out of the hands of people considered at risk of violence, under what is known as a red-flag law. On Thursday after the executives released their letter, Business Roundtable, which had been reluctant to enter the gun debate, called on Congress and the Trump administration “to come together and enact bipartisan, common-sense legislation to address this epidemic.” Visa joined with the group, saying that a “string of mass shootings in America has brought unimaginable sadness and a feeling of hopelessness to many in our communities.” A week ago, Walmart, the largest retailer and employer in the country, wrote its own letter to Congress, pushing for a debate over reauthorizing an assault weapons ban. It also announced that it was removing certain ammunition and guns from its shelves and would discourage “open carry” in its stores. Other retailers followed suit by changing their open-carry policies, including Kroger, CVS, Walgreens and the Wegmans grocery chain. The letter signers on Thursday include the leaders of Airbnb, the Gap, Pinterest, Lyft, the Brookfield Property Group and Royal Caribbean. Missing from the list, however, are some of America’s biggest financial and technology companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, some of which debated internally whether to sign the letter. Two companies that signed may raise eyebrows in Washington: Thrive Capital, whose founder, Joshua Kushner, is the brother of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, and Bain Capital, the private equity firm co-founded by Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah. The letter is the latest example of the business community’s stepping into a sensitive political area — sometimes reluctantly — during the Trump presidency. Business leaders have criticized Mr. Trump’s immigration policy and his response to the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va. On guns, the president has on several occasions offered support for stronger firearms policies before stepping away. Some of the letter signers plan to lobby lawmakers in Washington, but it is unclear how much money, if any, the companies may devote to this issue. Some executives signed on without hesitation. Others mulled it, often creating a raucous debate inside their offices and among their boards of directors, only to decide that the political risk was too high. More than a half-dozen executives spoke about their deliberations on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of conversations. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook did not sign, although he told colleagues and peers that he agreed with stricter background checks, two people involved in the conversation said. With Facebook under federal scrutiny — and contending with a drumbeat of criticism from Republicans who contend that the company’s platform silences conservative voices — Mr. Zuckerberg has decided that activism on this issue would only intensify the spotlight on the company, these people said. Others inside Facebook made the case that it was a moral responsibility to press for more responsible gun sales laws. Similar concerns were raised by the leadership at Google, whose YouTube unit was the site of a shooting last year. Google recently announced an internal policy that would make it hard for the company to consider signing the letter. That policy includes this line: “Our primary responsibility is to do the work we’ve each been hired to do, not to spend working time on debates about non-work topics.” Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, signed. His company’s policy bans guns from its vehicles, either for drivers or passengers. Lyft, Uber’s main rival, signed as well. Several executives said one of the biggest practical worries was whether taking such a stance would lead to in-store confrontations with angry customers carrying guns. Would they be putting their employees in danger or even just in an uncomfortable discussion about a divisive issue? Even banks like Citigroup and Bank of America, which both publicly distanced themselves from gunmakers this year by ending lending and banking relationships with manufacturers, declined to sign the letter. After they made their positions public this year, the banks were rebuked by Republican lawmakers. Louisiana passed a law preventing the banks from working on bond offerings for the state. “I personally believe the policies of these banks are an infringement on the rights of Louisiana citizens,” the state’s treasurer, John Schroder, said at the time. “No one can convince me that keeping these two banks in this competitive process is worth giving up our rights.” For better or worse, business leaders are increasingly carving out positions on social issues. It’s not new — and the Hobby Lobby fight against the contraceptive provision of the Affordable Care Act shows us that such positioning does not confine itself to progressive causes — but it is growing. In some cases, those maneuvers have happened out of necessity, as when top executives could not count on a strong response from Washington after the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That touched off a flurry of calls between some of the country’s top finance executives about how to handle a conference being hosted by Saudi Arabia, whose crown prince had been implicated in Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance. But over the last three years, businesses have become engaged on social issues like immigration, climate change and race in a way that would have been unfathomable a decade ago. On Thursday, businesses turned to the problem of gun violence. The letter suggested that background checks on all gun sales were a “common-sense solution with overwhelming public support.” A number of polls have put backing for such policies above 90 percent. The market is demanding action — and businesses are listening.
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