On October 5, 2015, Penn was one of many Philadelphia-area colleges that lived under the threat of an anonymous online post foreshadowing a mass shooting. Due in part to the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College just days before, there was a palpable sense of tension on campus. Security was increased and some professors, out of an abundance of caution, even cancelled classes for the afternoon.
Fortunately, the supposed deadline for the attack in Philadelphia came and went without incident. Others have not been so lucky. We all know the locations: Charleston (9 killed, 1 injured), San Bernardino (14 killed, 22 injured), Orlando (49 killed, 53 injured). But despite the media’s emphasis on instances of mass tragedy, these nightmares are just the tip of America’s gun violence iceberg. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 13,471 people were in non-suicide gun deaths in the United States last year. That’s 36 people per day — over one every hour for the entire year.
We also know that suicide is easily facilitated by access to guns. A Harvard study showed that in 2010, 11,078 people were killed in gun homicides compared to 19,392 who committed suicide using firearms. Of the people who tried to commit suicide with a gun, approximately 85% succeeded. In states with lower rates of gun ownership, the firearm suicide rate drops, even as the non-firearm suicide rate remains approximately the same.
This is not new information, nor is it liberal propaganda created to trample the Second Amendment. These are facts, and gun violence in the United States is nothing short of a public health crisis.
So what can we do to fix this problem? First and foremost, we must acknowledge that the problem exists. For years, the CDC was banned from researching gun violence at all, leaving journalists to cobble together data on the problem. Even now, with the ban technically lifted by executive order, Congress continually refuses to provide money to research the epidemic. Opponents of CDC gun violence research often argue that any research would just be a transparent attempt to advocate for gun control. But that line of opposition gives away the game — opponents know that further research would show a widespread problem in need of addressing.
There are certainly debates to be had about which laws would be most effective. At the very least, however, we can agree that our current methods of curbing gun deaths are woefully inadequate. We cannot allow our elected officials to shrug their shoulders and wish that there was something they could do to prevent this. To that end, we applaud the efforts of Sen. Chris Murphy and all the other members of Congress who staged a filibuster and sit-in over the lack of gun control legislation. But those efforts were not enough. We need action.
The sensible thing for Congress to do would be to pass laws in an attempt to prevent any more senseless deaths. There are specific pieces of legislation with broad public support that would be worth implementing. For example, a Pew research poll conducted last summer indicates that 85% of Americans — including 79% of Republicans! — support increased background checks. Over half support a ban on military-style assault weapons, almost 80% agree with laws to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns and 70% want a federal database to track gun purchases. Instead of enacting these common-sense reforms, however, most congressional Republicans take the NRA’s money, deny the problem exists and then wonder why the situation doesn’t improve.
To sum up the situation, Congress as an institution has refused to allow for research on gun violence, an unforgivable dereliction of duty. Despite the overwhelming majority of Americans backing common-sense gun reform, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly prioritized an unyielding commitment to the gun lobby and corporate interests over saving American lives.
That is simply unacceptable. We the People must demand that our representatives, our senators, our governors and our President do everything in their power to “insure domestic Tranquility” and “promote the general Welfare” of our country. And at this point, “thoughts and prayers” are not enough accomplish those goals.
Toe the Line examines issues from two different sides. Click here to view the College Republicans side.
LUKE HOBAN is a College senior and the Penn Dems communication director. He is a science, technology & society major and a philosophy minor.