Fear over Facts: The Perception of Gun Control Policy and 2016 Executive Action

By: Raisa D’Oyley

America makes up about 5 percent of the global population. Yet, over 30 percent of worldwide mass shootings happen on our land, leading the world in the most public mass shootings. According to the White House, guns took over 100,000 innocent lives over the past decade.

After 350 mass shootings in 2015, President Obama announced his Executive Actions aimed at reducing gun violence and making communities safer. This Executive Order probably provided some much needed relief for many Americans, the majority of whom, as of October 2015, believed that the laws covering the sale of firearms should be stricter.

In his speech, President Obama laid out four specific steps that will further the efforts to prevent guns from illegally getting into the hands of those who intend to inflict harm. Although, as Obama conceded in an interview with Anderson Cooper, none of these measures would have prevented the acts of violence mentioned in his speech, it was a huge step in the right direction to solving America’s increasingly obvious gun problem.

One thing resonated with me, however, throughout President Obama’s entire speech. Even after the applause subsided, tears were wiped away, and accusations of a conspiracy to confiscate all of our guns were incredulously denied, I still couldn’t shake the statement the President meant almost as an aside:

“…and by the way, this happens on the streets of Chicago every day…”

And, it doesn’t just happen in the streets of Chicago. It happens in New Orleans, Detroit, Miami, Baltimore and, DC. (Each of these cities, by the way, had higher rates of death by firearm than Chicago in 2013.)

I do not mention these other places and violent situations to play the cruel and meaningless game of which deaths are more important. I call attention to these cities because every day in 2013, firearms killed an average of 30 people, and no laws were passed. The number of people killed by firearms in 2011 was 18 times that of the people killed by mass shootings in 2015, and no executive action on gun control was declared.

To make matters worse, gun violence disproportionately impacts the black community. Guns kill black Americans at twice the rate of white Americans. Black males are twenty times more likely to die from a firearm than their white male counterparts.

Further, in 2012, gun suicide was twice that of homicide death by firearm, disproportionately affecting the white community. The rates of suicide deaths get worse with age, spiking at age 70 and 50 for white men and women, respectively. White suicide deaths far outnumber that of their peer groups. 

Gun violence has taken many lives, disproportionately black and disproportionately male, at a consistent rate for over a decade. Yet, the Gallup polls reveal that Americans’ desire for stricter gun laws did not begin to increase until 2012, which corresponds to the increased frequency of “active shooter” situations. It seems as though we are more likely to encourage gun reform when the shootings are widely publicized and more indiscriminate than when they are constant yet concentrated to a particular demographic. The idea that gun deaths could happen anywhere rather than just in the wrong side of town” or to anyone rather than just the person suffering from mental illness turns us into advocates for change. Perhaps it is human nature that makes us more concerned with issues when the risk of them impacting our personal lives is perceived to be greater. Fear drives our actions, not facts.

While the proposal was introduced under the guise of addressing the rise in mass shootings, the numbers and facts better support the hope that gun reform will decrease the persistent trend of gun violence that has claimed so many lives. Still, it is too early to tell with certainty what impact it will actually have. Strengthening background checks for gun sales may decrease the amount of straw sales, the most common ways criminals get access to guns. It may also have an impact on the number of illegal sales made through corrupt gun dealers. These changes could help minimize gun violence in the black community, which is most impacted by gun-related homicide. The increased access to mental health services could help reduce the number of gun suicides, which make up 60% of gun deaths and disproportionately hurts the white community.

Of course, there also those who doubt that any real change will come out of the new strategy. But, hopefully this is only the beginning of gun reform measures to curve the violence that impacts us all.

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