Susan Cox: Education a step in curbing gun violence

The recent mass shootings leave me feeling a little helpless. No progress toward solutions is happening as people with varying views seem entrenched in their positions and refuse to listen to anyone else’s ideas. I often feel like my voice doesn’t matter and I don’t know what I can do to bring about change, so I decided to do a little research.

While mass shootings get a lot of attention, they only make up a small fraction, just 1 to 2%, of gun deaths. The majority of gun deaths are from gun suicides and homicides (source: Gun Violence Archive). When we consider ways to reduce these deaths, we need to focus on more than just mass shootings.

Another challenge for me is knowing what could help reduce gun violence. Some people want more regulations on guns themselves while others think we should focus on who has access to guns. No one solution is going to stop all gun violence, but if we use a combination of approaches, we will probably be more successful.

About one-third of states restrict handgun purchases to those who are 21 or older, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Studies have shown that the connection between firearm access and suicide is highest among teenagers and young adults. Another study found that raising the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21 was associated with a 9% decline in gun suicide rates among 18-20-year-olds. Additionally, several of the most recent mass shootings may have been prevented with this kind of restriction, making this type of law one part of a solution.

Red flag laws should also be part of the solution. These laws are designed to prevent someone who is behaving in ways that indicate they could be a danger to themselves or others from having access to guns — either ones they own or ones they may purchase. One challenge with these laws is enforcing them fairly and without bias, but if used effectively, these laws can reduce gun violence, particularly domestic violence.

Background checks can also help reduce domestic gun violence. According to the Giffords Law Center “More than half of all intimate partner homicides are committed by dating partners. Research shows that when states broaden their firearm prohibition laws beyond federal law to cover abusive dating partners, the states experience a 16% reduction in intimate partner gun homicides.” Including those who have been convicted of stalking in these laws could further reduce these types of homicides.

Another area we could focus on is more education on safe storage of guns such as trigger locks and storing guns and ammunition separately and possible fines if an unsafely stored gun causes injuries. This could prevent thieves and children from accessing guns. We could also research “smart” guns that need a PIN or fingerprint to be fired.

We also need to do more research on firearm injuries and what kinds of programs/laws could reduce the number of injuries. According to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, in a 40-year period from 1973-2012, the National Institutes of Health funded 212 grants for cholera with 400 US cases in that time period. 56 grants went to diphtheria with 1,337 cases. For the more than 4 million firearms injuries, only 3 grants were awarded. Unfortunately, Congress has restricted funding when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies have tried to study gun violence.

So, what can we do to bring about change? Well, we can contact our elected officials and share our thoughts. You can find out who those officials are and how to contact them at (or try for just Indiana); you can call, write, or email your representatives. If you own guns, you can make sure you store them safely. We can also support research and programs that aim to reduce gun violence. But perhaps most of all, we can educate ourselves.