Rewriting the gun narrative in America
BY NINA VINIK
With a gun violence rate 25 times higher than peer nations, guns are the leading cause of death among young people in America.
Mass shootings may dominate the headlines, but gun violence is deadly every single day.
In 2020, which is the most recent year for which we have complete data, guns killed more than 45,000 people in America, averaging more than 110 dead every day and hundreds more wounded.
This trend is happening in spite of a gun violence prevention movement that’s grown in size and sophistication, even outspending the NRA in recent federal election cycles. In spite of these shifts, and recent incremental wins in Congress, annual gun sales — and gun deaths — have both reached record levels.
Despite these facts, most Americans believe that guns will make them safer, and more and more of them are buying guns for protection. This reflects a cultural shift in favor of gun ownership over the past two decades. Between the 1970s and 2000, household gun ownership in the U.S. fell steadily from a peak of roughly 50 percent in 1978 to about one-third of households owning guns in 2000.
Twenty years ago, most Americans knew that having a gun at home made them less safe. But since then, Americans’ perceptions and behaviors on guns have shifted. Today, nearly two-thirds say the home is safer with a gun, and most people who buy guns say they are doing so for protection.
But the research is clear: The presence of a gun won’t make you safer. In fact, the likelihood of homicides, suicides, domestic violence deaths and unintentional shootings all rise dramatically when a gun is present. The risk of homicide is three times higher when there are guns in the home. Access to a firearm triples one’s risk of death by suicide. This elevated risk applies not only to the gun owner, but to everyone in the household. This suicide risk is particularly significant for young people, for whom the pandemic has taken a severe toll on their mental health.
With public sentiment shifting in favor of gun ownership for protection — contrary to the research and in the face of rising rates of gun violence — it is urgent that we ask: What will it take to reset the narrative to make clear that guns make us less safe?