This week, the trial begins for the man accused of shooting and killing 11 people at my Pittsburgh synagogue 4½ years ago. Reports say he was motivated by antisemitism, white supremacist ideology and hatred for immigrants, but what made the attack deadly was the guns.
On April 13 of this year, an 84-year-old man shot Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old Black teen, in the head because he rang his doorbell. The man was motivated by racism and fear, but what changed Ralph Yarl and his family’s lives forever was the gun.
On April 15, a man shot and killed 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis for mistakenly driving up his driveway. It appears that the homeowner just didn’t like strangers.
And on April 18, two high school cheerleaders were shot after trying to get into the wrong car. We don’t yet know the motive, but the difference between this being an amusing anecdote and a life-changing event was the gun.
I have mistakenly knocked on a stranger’s door. I have answered the door for a stranger asking for directions. I have mistakenly driven up the wrong driveway. Strangers turn around in my driveway all the time. I have tried to open the door of a car that looked like mine, but wasn’t. I have had someone mistakenly try to open my car door . And never did it occur to me that I might be shot for these actions, or even worse, that I might shoot someone else.
The common denominator is the guns. Gun ownership is a significant predictor of higher gun homicide rates. In an American Journal of Public Health study, for each percentage point increase in gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9%. Having a gun in the home, regardless of storage practice, type of gun or number of firearms, was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide.
Suicide by firearm is highest in states with the fewest gun laws (10.8 per 100,000), lower in states with moderate gun laws (8.4 per 100,000), and the lowest in states with the most gun laws (4.9 per 100,000). Owning a handgun is associated with a dramatically elevated risk of suicide , according to a study at Stanford University that followed 26 million California residents over a 12-year period.
Stricter gun laws decrease gun deaths and injuries. Strong gun laws are associated with lower gun homicide and suicide rates and repeal of such laws results in increased shootings.
We don’t already have strong gun laws largely because of the NRA and related “gun rights” organizations. The NRA blocks virtually all gun legislation because the NRA is supported by gun manufacturers, and gun manufacturers sell guns. The NRA donates to legislators (and their PACs) who earn their A rating. Despite their 501(c)(4) tax status, the NRA only supports Republicans.
The laws we need include universal background checks; red flag laws to, temporarily and with due process, remove firearms from people at risk of harming themselves or others; safe storage laws to prevent gun suicides, school shootings and unintentional shootings; mandatory reporting of lost and stolen guns to prevent trafficked guns from making their way into the hands of those not permitted to own firearms; and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines to limit the number of casualties.
We won’t get those laws until the majority of us decide to vote only for the candidate supporting stronger gun laws. It really is that simple.