Opinion | A public health crisis weaponized
Pat McShane, Summit Colorado Interfaith Council president
Diane Luellen, Summit Colorado Interfaith Council past president
Donna Clark, Lord of the Mountains ELCA Task Force to Reduce Gun Violence chairperson
Question is: Are we safer with more guns at home during a pandemic?
Gun sales in the United States are setting records in response to the coronavirus, according to new data from the FBI. More than 6.5 million weapons were sold in February and March. The federal gun background check system completed roughly 2.9 million screenings in April, the fourth-highest month on record and a 25% increase over April of last year. But will all these guns make us safer at home?
And when a break-in does occur, having a gun is no safety guarantee. Harvard Injury Control Research Center reported that guns are used for self-protection in less than 1% of all crimes that take place in the presence of a victim. This study also found that in spite of a few rare instances to the contrary, people were more likely to be injured after threatening attackers with guns than they were if they had called the police or run away.
So if more guns in the home don’t result in more safety, what difference do they make?
Serious threats to public safety are the result of magnifying the numbers of guns in the home. The more guns we have, the closer we keep them to us, the more danger we are in.
For starters, suicides: Numerous studies show that access to firearms increases the odds of suicide. That risk is three times greater in households with guns.
This is particularly troublesome for youths, whose mood swings can be extreme. Teens today are in lockdown, struggling to complete assignments online, separated from their peers, watching anticipated events canceled or postponed. Youths considering suicide report that the intention can pass quickly. But not quickly enough, given that 90% of suicidal youths who use a gun use one found in the home. Over 90% of suicide attempts made in Colorado using a firearm are fatal compared to less than 5% when an attempt is made through a drug overdose.
Second, more guns result in more accidental shootings. Before the coronavirus pandemic, there were 4.5 million children living in homes with access to an unlocked or unsupervised gun. How many today following the coronavirus sales surge?
Businesses, factories and organizations in Colorado are starting to open up again, and many parents are relieved at their ability to receive regular paychecks. They’re also concerned about children left at home, often unsupervised. They should be: 75% of children report they know where guns in their homes are hidden, and one-third of them have handled those guns already.
Third, when there’s a gun in the house, the chance of homicide doubles.
Given the stress of economic uncertainty and tight quarters, more guns lead to more homicides. A New England Journal of Medicine study found that having a gun in the home was linked with five times higher odds that someone would be killed at home by a family member or intimate acquaintance. According to a director at Johns Hopkins school of public health, “Abusers like a lot of control, and they’re going to feel a lot less control if they’re losing their job or the family income.”
The Gun Violence Archive reports that between March 1 and April 19, 2,100 gun deaths were reported — 6% more than during the same period in any of the past three years. Such an increase in suicides, accidental deaths and homicides places additional burdens on medical systems. Most importantly, with emergency rooms already stretched beyond capacity, an increase in gun violence reduces the availability of medical staff and essential supplies available when you and your family might need them most.
Despite these risks, there are ways we can mitigate them. Safe storage is an area of agreement among groups that differ on other gun related topics. The National Rifle Association and the Brady Campaign offer similar tips:
- Teach young children simple steps: stop, don’t touch, run away, tell an adult
- Store guns and ammunition so that they are not accessible
- Install trigger locks, padlocked gun cases, strong boxes and safes
This pandemic is scary enough without adding a gun violence epidemic: more suicides, homicides and accidental deaths of children. Let’s make our community aware of the heightened risks and safety measures to address them.
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