Unfettered access to guns has made all Americans less safe

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

117,345 — the average number of Americans shot by guns each year. 

40,620 —  the average number of Americans killed by gun violence each year. 

7,957 — the average number of U.S. children 17 and younger shot by guns each year.

1,839 — the average number of U.S. children 17 and younger killed by guns each year

547 — the average number of U.S. women killed by gun violence perpetrated by their husband or male dating partner. 

132 — the number of mass shootings that have taken place in the U.S. so far this year. 

209 — the number of people killed in U.S. mass shootings in 2023.  

This is the country we live in. 

It is a country flooded by guns. By some estimates, there are more than 350 million guns circulating in the U.S., which would mean we have more guns than we do people, despite the fact that only around 40% of Americans report owning a gun or living in a household where a gun is present. 

It is a country unique among the world’s wealthiest nations. As a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) pointed out: “Among 64 high-income countries and territories, the United States stands out for its high levels of gun violence … Age-adjusted firearm homicide rates in the U.S. are 13 times greater than they are in France, and 22 times greater than in the European Union as a whole. The U.S. has 23 times the rate of firearm homicide seen in Australia.” 

It is also a country where — despite research showing the overwhelmingly majority of Americans back stronger gun control policies — one of two major political parties has surrendered to the will of the gun manufacturing lobby instead of standing up for the rights of their constituents to live a more peaceful existence in towns and cities where they know their neighbors cannot just go out and buy a gun on a whim or stockpile weapons meant for war.

Most of us know we can no longer sit back each and every time some person who has easy access to guns like the AR-15, a semiautomatic rifle that, as one trauma center doctor put it after treating victims of the Parkland school massacre in 2018, “delivers a devastatingly lethal, high-velocity bullet to the victim (with) nothing left to repair,” takes those weapons and goes to a school, a bank, a concert, a grocery store, a mall, a movie theater, an office building or a coffee shop intent on killing as many people as they can. 

Most of us no longer believe the myth that having more guns in our society will somehow make any of us safer. We know guns kept in homes for “self defense” are far more likely to harm that gun owner or that gun owner’s own family members than some random criminal who has broken into the house. As a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded: “Living with a handgun owner is associated with substantially elevated risk for dying by homicide (and) women are disproportionately affected.”

We also know that states with the fewest gun restrictions are also the most likely to experience mass shootings – in fact, according to the British Medical Journal, “a 10% increase in gun ownership was associated with a more than 35% higher rate of mass shootings.”

We also know that people who live in states that have passed stricter gun control policies have less of a chance of dying from gun violence than residents living in conservative states with fewer gun restrictions. When you look at the rate of firearm homicides in the U.S., the states with the highest rates are in the country’s “reddest,” most conservative areas: Louisiana leads the pack with 9.79 firearm homicides per 100,000 people compared to the national average of 4.12 per 100,000, followed by Mississippi (8.07) and Alabama (7.84). 

Research also shows that unfettered access to firearms only adds to our nation’s gun-violence misery. As one Harvard researcher who studied this issue noted: “The presence of more guns does make crimes more violent (and) make hostile interactions—robberies, assaults—much more deadly.”

We also know that our nation’s failure to implement strict gun control like other wealthy nations has led to a gun violence crisis in other parts of the world. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, “firearms originating in the U.S. account for 70% of the firearms recovered and traced from crimes in Mexico. And, as the journal, “Foreign Policy” pointed out in 2019, not only does the U.S. “provide more small arms and ammunition to Central America than any other country does,” but the Trump Administration’s “push to weaken oversight of gun exports” worsened the Central American refugee crisis. In other words, if you’re against Central American immigrants fleeing violence in their own countries and seeking refuge in the U.S., you might also want to reconsider your stance on “gun rights.” 

Luckily, the tide seems to finally be turning, albeit slower than it should be. Close to 60% of Washingtonians have, since 2014, regularly voted for statewide gun-control policies. 

And, now, thanks to Gov. Jay Inslee and Democratic lawmakers, Washington is poised to join at least nine other states — including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — that prohibit the manufacturing and sale of high-powered, semi-automatic firearms that have the capacity to inflict much greater damage to a human body than a standard shotgun or handgun. 

The statewide ban on selling and manufacturing semi-automatic assault weapons, which passed the Senate and is now going back to the Democratically controlled House, will likely go into effect this year.

In a nation filled with gun violence, we should feel lucky to live and work in a state like Washington, where the majority of our politicians listen to the will of the people rather than the whispers of the gun manufacturing lobbyists.