Two years ago this Sunday, 20 children and six educators were brutally gunned down in Newtown, Connecticut, the town where I grew up. Our nation rightfully has not been able to forget that day. Nor have we stopped fighting for effective policies that would dramatically reduce gun death and injury.
In the past two years, it's become clear to anyone paying attention that we are facing a public health emergency. High-profile shootings are taking place with numbing regularity in schools, restaurants, college campuses, big-box retail stores, and virtually any other public area we used to consider safe.
Just think back to a few of this year's headlines: In October, a 15-year-old entered a high school cafeteria near Seattle and killed four classmates and then himself with a .40 Beretta pistol. In June, a husband and wife with radical anti-government views shot and killed two police officers, then killed again in a nearby Walmart. In May, a shooter in Isla Vista, California, filmed a hateful and misogynistic video before he went on a gun and knife rampage, leaving six dead.
Even these high-profile events fail to convey the full scale of the gun violence epidemic. Nearly four people in America die from gun violence every hour, or one every 15 minutes. The latest research from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that in 2012, more than 33,000 Americans died in gun suicides, homicides, and unintentional shootings, and an estimated 81,000 were injured.
We should not be surprised that despite this daily carnage, the NRA and its paymasters in the gun industry continue to lobby aggressively against nationwide gun violence prevention laws. None of us expected to win this fight overnight. Yet ever since that terrible day two years ago, a resurgent gun violence prevention movement has won path-breaking victories and laid the foundation for future progress.
Here are just a few of the reasons for hope:
The gun industry's long-term outlook is bleak. The firearms business is an industry on the decline. Despite a temporary surge in gun sales after Newtown, major firearms companies are now under severe financial pressure as sales and earnings fall. Today, little more than a third of American households report the presence of a gun in the home, and this percentage has steadily fallen since 1970.
The gun lobby's propaganda is not true. In their quest to sell as many guns as possible, the NRA and the gun industry work to exploit the very situation they've helped create: arguing that the only way to stop a "bad" guy with a gun is with a "good" guy with a gun. In other words, the NRA and the gun industry's self-serving answer to gun violence is simple: more guns. This is based on the false assertion that guns are frequently used in self-defense. And the evidence shows this claim is completely untrue. It is extremely rare for private citizens to use guns in self-defense. Nor do we improve public safety by allowing more concealed handguns in public. New research from Stanford University finds that concealed carry laws lead to an increase in violent crime. My organization's Concealed Carry Killers project has uncovered hundreds of examples of fatal shootings perpetrated by individuals with concealed carry permits which they received for the purported purpose of self-defense. The NRA and the gun industry can, and will, continue to repeat their self-defense canard, but the facts are not on their side.
The nation is increasingly committed to stopping domestic violence. Recent headlines, such as the appalling video of Ray Rice brutally punching his fiancée in an elevator, have put a national spotlight on ending domestic abuse. This matters for the gun violence prevention movement as well, because gun violence is closely linked with domestic violence, and guns are the key factor that elevate domestic abuse to domestic homicide. My organization's annual report, When Men Murder Women, consistently finds that more than 90 percent of women murdered by men are killed by someone they know, and approximately two-thirds are killed by an intimate partner. Now, however, there is increasing pressure for both states and the federal government to act. In South Carolina -- a state that consistently ranks as one of the worst for women killed by men -- state lawmakers are calling for legislation to keep guns away from domestic abusers.
States are adopting stronger gun violence prevention laws. Each year, our research finds that states with stronger gun violence prevention laws and low rates of gun ownership have the lowest gun death rates in the country. Just months after Newtown, several states, including Connecticut, Colorado, and New York State, passed significant legislation to help stop gun violence. With this year's successful ballot initiative to strengthen universal background checks in Washington State and the upcoming ballot initiative in Nevada, state-level initiatives represent a new battleground for gun violence prevention.
A strong, energetic, and grassroots movement has emerged to counteract the NRA. The gun lobby is used to getting its way. But since Newtown, both new and existing gun violence prevention organizations continue to be more active and energized than ever. They are winning elections, educating the public, building grassroots support, and campaigning for divestment from the gun industry, to name just a few activities. This month, the Newtown Action Alliance worked with other groups to organize nationwide vigils on the two-year anniversary of Sandy Hook and an "Honor With Action" campaign to honor the victims.
I have been involved in the gun violence prevention movement for decades. Two years ago, the issue became even more personal to me after the massacre in my hometown. Since then, I have of course been frustrated by the slow pace of change -- but also very encouraged by the real progress and dedicated grassroots activism across the country. Two years later, we are standing up to the NRA and fighting every day to protect human lives and public safety. No matter how long it takes, we are not going away.
Correction: The post originally stated that nearly four people in America die from gun violence every 15 minutes. Nearly four people in America die from gun violence every hour, or one every 15 minutes.
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