Coronavirus isn’t the only public health crisis that needs attention


As lawmakers address the pandemic, they shouldn’t ignore another public health crisis that had gripped the country long before the coronavirus outbreak.

That preexisting emergency is gun deaths, and it continues taking the lives of innocent Americans unabated during the pandemic. An average of 103 people die of gunshot wounds in the U.S. on a daily basis, including four who are 17 or younger.

They’re people like Ashton Price, a Texas College business major and football player who died when senseless gunfire erupted at a house party recently in Las Vegas. Price, one of two people shot at the party, died of a chest wound.

Then there are the younger victims. In Philadelphia, it was a 7-year-old boy who was shot in the head while sitting on his porch next to his toy race car and scooter. In Chicago, it was a 9-year-old boy who had gone out to play on a warm summer evening but was shot in the back by a man who allegedly fired into a group of people while “hunting” an adversary.

The death toll rises, hand in hand with the coronavirus.

This is a public health crisis of its own, and lawmakers must keep it top of mind. Our nation needs to vastly strengthen its gun safety laws, and Nevada has plenty of room for improvement in that regard as well.

As is, too many Americans of all ages are dying amid a glut of guns that are all too easily obtainable. In fact, federal authorities reported a record number of requests for background checks on gun purchases coming in June — a staggering 3.9 million checks — as concerns about the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests prompted more gun sales. Those guns flowed into a nation that was already awash with more than 300 million civilian firearms, according to a widely accepted estimate.

To contend with all of this lethal force, any number of gun safety regulations are needed. At the federal level, that includes creating a national gun registry that would deter gun owners from illegally selling weapons and would help law enforcement authorities solve gun crimes and seize firearms from criminals. Among other measures needed at the federal level: universal background checks, reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, and beefed-up product safety requirements such as smart technology that prevents guns from being fired by anyone other than their owners and mechanisms that prevent guns from being fired when magazines are not attached.

Nevada has made strides in recent years by adopting universal background checks and a red-flag law that allows guns to be seized from individuals who have been legally deemed a threat to themselves and others. But we have yet to ban sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, limit bulk purchases of weapons or establish licensing and registration of firearms, among other needed regulations.

Although Nevada lawmakers have justifiably focused on pandemic-related issues and social justice during their two special sessions, they shouldn’t let gun issues go dormant as they prepare for the 2021 regular session. Nevadans, like Americans at large, have shown in polling that they are heavily in favor of greater gun safety.

We can’t let the gun lobby drown out conversations about gun safety by characterizing every responsible piece of legislation as an assault on the Second Amendment — we have to treat the issue as the public safety crisis it is. As shown by the New York attorney general’s suit against the National Rifle Association, that organization long ago became a money-making con job that wasn’t legitimately interested in reasonable gun policy.

New York-based pediatrician Chethan Sathya put it well in a recent column for Time magazine.

“If we continue to politicize gun violence, similarly to the politicization of COVID-19, masks and school reopenings, those in disparate communities with high levels of gun violence will continue to bear the brunt of the aftermath,” he wrote. “We in health care are tired of pulling bullets out of children and breaking bad news to parents. We are exhausted from COVID-19 — and the fact that there is no relief in sight with respect to gun violence is disheartening and breeds a sense of futility. Gun violence was an epidemic decades ago: Now it is endemic, made worse by the economic insecurity and ongoing lockdowns spurred by COVID-19, and disproportionately targeting underprivileged Americans, most of them people of color.”

Americans want progress on gun safety. Leadership can’t let that need lapse while dealing with the pandemic.

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