Now that we are getting down to crunch time, stories are beginning to appear about how HRC is beginning to look beyond the election and starting to plan how things will work once she gets down to work. So without giving November 8th the evil eye, maybe it’s time for Gun-sense Nation to start thinking along the same lines. Because if she wins, and if the Senate turns blue, and if enough red seats in the House turn various shades of purple, a real, honest-to-goodness gun bill will wind up on her desk.
But in order to craft a good bill, the first thing we need to do is define the problem. And the problem is very simple: too many people get injured with guns. More than 30,000 of these injuries each year are fatal, another 75,000 or so result in serious wounds. Most of the injuries are intentional, some are accidents, but according to the CDC, the exact figure in 2014 was 114,633.
So if Gun-sense Nation wants to get behind a strategy that will, it is hoped, reduce gun violence, then we need to start with this benchmark figure in order to evaluate whether a new set of regulations will have much effect. But using a figure like 115,000 gun injuries a year is actually a number that is much lower than the actual injuries caused by guns. Which doesn’t have to do with the way we count injuries; rather, it reflects the way we define injuries, regardless of whether they are caused by guns or anything else.
When we talk about gun violence, what we really are talking about is violence of a particular type, namely, violence caused by a gun. But what is violence in and of itself? I think the best, most comprehensive definition is given by the World Health Organization (WHO), which says that violence is: “The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.” Note that violence, according to the WHO, goes far beyond the physical injuries sustained when someone is shot with a gun. Because every time that someone is hit by a bullet, someone else sees them lying, bleeding in the street or within their home, someone sticks the victim in a car and drives like crazy towards the ER, and someone is standing there as the trauma surgeon comes out shaking his head.
Would it be wrong to assume that for every one of the 115,000 people who are physically injured with a gun each year that another several hundred thousand are psychologically traumatized and emotionally damaged even though the bullet entered the body of someone else? And if you think that the psychological impact of seeing one person bleeding to death is horrendous, imagine if you end up witnessing a mass shooting, such as at Aurora, Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook. In 1991, George Hennard drove his truck into a Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, shot and killed 23 people, wounded another 27 and then shot himself to death. In the aftermath, a health team interviewed 136 people who were on the scene during the shooting or arrived after it began. Nearly one-third of them had to be treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) I thought that PTSD was a hazard of military deployment, not something that might break out in a cozy little town like Killeen.
So the bottom line is that we are making a mistake if our benchmark for evaluating how new gun regulations might reduce gun violence is determined by counting only the number of people who get shot. The truth is we don’t have any way of counting the number of people who witness gun violence and suffer extreme emotional pain. And they often bear scars that are just as deep as any physical wound made by a gun.