In the wake of another series of shootings in the United States, my heart literally hurts. I continue to seek understanding — what is happening in our country? According to Mass Shooting Tracker, 93 people died from gun violence in August of this year.
I thought that number couldn’t be correct, however, Mass Shooting Tracker provides details of every event, defining mass shooting as an incident where four or more people are shot in a single shooting spree. Keep in mind that this number does not include the number of individuals who were wounded in the shooting spree. That number would be 253.
As I reviewed the data, I started to become numb. And then, I started to pray. As I said my prayers, trying to make sense of the world that we live in, a world in which my husband and I are raising a 13-month-old baby, my initial response was paralysis. My next move was prayer. What would my action be?
Action cannot come soon enough for one friend of mine who reminded me that thoughts and prayers are not enough. A divide has emerged since the shootings occurred. Some people, like me, turned to prayer. Others turned to discussion or action, some of which is directed at those of us who pray first.
It is curious to me that people are angry with those who think about and/or pray for those killed, injured or impacted. But the vitriol is real. It is also unfounded, unless we do nothing but pray.
If prayer is used as a shield to ignore action, then those who only pray and move on to the next thing become a part of the problem, not part of the solution. If prayer is used as a connective tool, to bring people together, to then act together to resolve issues of violence, then it is the ignitor for change and something to be encouraged.
In my case, prayer led me to try to understand what was happening with gun violence. A quick Google search led me to the University of California, Davis. That is where I learned that in the U.S., 60% of deaths by firearm are suicides and 75% of homicides are gun related. While I was aware of homicide related deaths, I was unaware of the impact on suicide. Utah has one of the highest ratings of death by suicide in the country — 85% of which are by firearm.
This began to sound like a health crisis to me. And I believe that it is. Why then did Congress cut funding to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 1996 with specific focus on gun violence and/or prevention, reallocating it to a different research agenda? Similar limitations were applied to the National Institute of Health in 2012, further drying up research funding opportunities. It was only last year the language was clarified, so the CDC can conduct research on gun violence, but it cannot use government resources to specifically advocate for gun control.
This raises another question, what if gun control is what the research points to as a meaningful solution? Articulating, out of the gate, what cannot be done with research findings is counterintuitive to finding a solution to a problem we have yet to understand. And yet, here we find ourselves.
If we can support research on gun violence and gun violence prevention, I believe that we can begin to roll back the associated health risks. This means, first, funding research on gun violence and prevention without limitation to outcome. Second, reviewing our laws and passing legislation that actually reduce gun violence. Third, understanding the role of guns in suicide education and prevention.
I am not fool enough to believe that these things alone will end gun violence. I do believe that they are a better beginning than sitting here waiting for the next mass shooting or suicide to occur. These efforts can help us move to action as a culture, actions that lessen homicides and suicides.
Efforts are underway in Utah as we see the rollout of an optional gun-safety program in public schools and suicide education at gun shows. It is a beginning. I may have started with prayers, but I know what my next action will be. Join me and others by participating in the Northern Utah Suicide Awareness Walk beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Ogden Amphitheater. Check out NUHOPE on Facebook, or look at your community calendar for more information.