Americans over the past three weeks have again witnessed the carnage of gun-involved mass killings. On November 19, 2022, five people were gunned down at a Colorado Springs night club frequented by members of the LGBTQ+ community. Only three days later, another mass shooting in Chesapeake, Virginia took the lives of seven other innocent individuals.
The motivations of the perpetrators in each of the latest mass shootings warrant further discussion. The deaths of five LGBTQ+ individuals in Colorado Springs were assuredly motivated by homophobia. The seven victims of the Chesapeake, Va. shooting were the victims of a troubled man who ended the lives of co-workers, no matter their gender or race.
The common thread that binds the two tragedies was that the perpetrators had easy access to guns —and there was an absence of effective guardrails to prevent them from carrying out their lethal act.
It is important to be reminded that these catastrophes have now become commonplace. In fact, during 2022, there have been 617 mass shootings .
More importantly, gun-related mass shootings represent only a small proportion of such deaths —and injuries—in this country each year. In actuality, 40,404 people have died from gun violence in 2022 — 18,426 from homicide and another 21,978 from suicide. In addition, more 76,000 American have been injured by guns thus far in 2022
Many of the homicide deaths are due to the daily shootings that occur in our urban communities nationwide — where most of the victims are young people of color .
The data shows that people of color, in particular African Americans, were disproportionately identified as the victims of gun violence. For example: Forty-one percent of firearm homicide victims in 2021 were Black males between the ages of 15 and 34, and Black women accounted for 7.8 percent of gun homicides in 2021, compared to 6.9 percent in 2020.
The statistics on overall gun violence tells us that before we can end the carnage, Americans must become aware of the full picture of gun violence. For instance, the mass shootings that occurred in Colorado Springs and Chesapeake should not be viewed in isolation.
We often react to mass shootings based not on the totality of the public health crisis that gun violence represents, but (understandably) on the horrific images and headlines that mass shootings produce.
The reality is that approximately 50,000 people in this country will succumb to gun violence this year. This means that the United States has not only a mass shooting crisis, but also that the United States has a much larger public health crisis caused by the proliferation of guns.
In July 2022, President Biden signed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was created in response to the Robb Elementary School mass shootings in Texas.
While well intended, the Safe Communities Act is not sufficient in itself to effectively deal with the gun violence crisis. Much more — such as a comprehensive ban on assault rifles — must be done.
Mel Wilson, LCSW, MBA, is the retired Senior Policy Advisor for the National Association of Social Workers. He continues to be active on a range social policy area including youth justice, immigration, criminal justice, and drug policy. He is a co-chairperson on the Justice Roundtable’s Drug Policy Reform Working Group.
Disclaimer: The National Association of Social Workers invites members to share their expertise and experiences through Member Voices. This blog was prepared by Mel Wilson in his personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the view of the National Association of Social Workers.