Solving the gun violence epidemic will require creative solutions
During the most recent Democratic debate, 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke stated bluntly and passionately, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15!” The constitutionality of that proposition aside, the media narrative surrounding O’Rourke’s comment quickly deteriorated into a binary choice: take away the guns or do nothing. The campaign to implement greater background checks, which previously had 92% favorability according to a 2018 Gallup Poll, has consequently been overshadowed by partisan debate.
Progressive political advocates have, on top of the background checks, called for bump stock and high-capacity magazine bans, mandatory gun buybacks and closing purchasing loopholes. From a conservative perspective, David French proposed a federal gun violence restraining order statute (based around California’s 2016 GVRO statute) known as “red flag laws,” which would allow individuals to seek a court order to temporarily restrict a person’s access to firearms. Conservatives, including President Trump, have also advocated for increasing the age requirement to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21.
These measures are notable; however, we shouldn’t stop suggesting new policies that could help prevent gun violence tragedies that we see in the news daily. I want to bring attention to some gun violence prevention strategies I believe must be introduced into popular discussion.
1. Mandatory suicide prevention warnings on all ammunition boxes.
Sixty percent of gun deaths in the U.S. are from suicide, according to a recent Pew Research study. A large warning on all ammunition boxes advertising the National Suicide Prevention Hotline could help with this issue. A 2019 RAND.org study found that warning labels depicting the health hazards associated with smoking markedly decreased cigarette sales. We could see the same results if we apply this strategy to ammunition boxes. If we want to lower gun violence, we must address the suicide epidemic in this country. This could perhaps be accomplished by executive action through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but Congress could also pass a statute using its commerce power.
2. Early childhood prevention education programs.
The National Education Association proposes helping students by increasing public school mental health services. Funding K-12 public school mental health services would address the problem on multiple fronts. Beyond helping students in day-to-day mental health issues and increasing students’ awareness of the help available to them, public school mental health services would increase the likelihood that administration officials will identify red flags or triggers that could work in tandem with French’s proposed red flag laws.
Additionally, states should view the gun violence problem as a public health problem, and therefore the public education curriculum should include gun violence education along with sex, drug and general health education.
Health class could then teach students about general firearm safety, identifiable and reportable signs correlated with violence and the cycle of violence that perpetually preserves gun violence, particularly among poorer communities. Students under this proposal will go through the public school system better equipped to avoid firearm accidents, identify notable triggers that may lead to significant violent incidents and understand the cycle of violence contributing to large amounts of street gun violence. Reframing public school health studies to address the complex issues afflicting our generation would better help students going forward.
There are plenty of other ideas I simply don’t have the space to continue discussing – including federal inheritance firearm buybacks, increased licensing requirements and increased ammunition sales taxes – but we must continue to suggest new ideas and push for new policies aimed at solving the problem. The daily comings and goings of Trump-era politics dramatically increases the speed of the news cycle, but we cannot lose sight of the long-term problems we are all facing. Gun violence is a multi-faceted problem which requires complex solutions that attack the issue on multiple fronts. The range of possible solutions shouldn’t be so narrow. These and other innovative policies may never completely eradicate the problem, but we must try something.
Matthew Buzard has a B.S. in legal studies from Stevenson University, and is a current law student at Hofstra.