Christopher Herrmann, David Kennedy, Sung-suk Violet Yu, Doug Evans – The Office for Advancement of Research recently spoke to faculty members at John Jay College about their thoughts on the Parkland shootings and what it means for the future of gun policy. The following is a condensed interview of the original which ran as part of the series John Jay Scholars on the News.
How does this moment in the national conversation about gun control feel different? Why do you think the response to the Parkland shooting has been so different from previous events?
Christopher Herrmann (Assistant Professor, Law and Police Science): There is certainly a different ‘feel’ about the gun control debate after the Parkland shooting.
Sung-suk Violet Yu (Associate Professor, Criminal Justice): The Never Again organizers are very active. The movement has gained traction, I think, because it is high school students leading it. They are not too helpless (like the young children at Sandy Hook), but also are not jaded, and they have few opponents. They are soon-to-be voters and a soon-to-be major consumer group, whose political views and spending habits are flexible and can be changed, making them a force to be reckoned with. They challenge mindsets and business-as-usual attitudes of politicians and big companies alike. The organizers are also passionate, and savvy about social networks, and their message resonates with many because the organizers experienced the carnage of school shootings firsthand, and we have all witnessed such tragedies too many times.
Doug Evans (Senior Investigator, Research and Evaluation Center): Emotional appeals hit hard when they come from people who have lived through a difficult experience, and even harder when they come from kids. The high school survivors are motivated and have a platform to address the masses, and people are listening because they can relate, either because they are in high school or are a teenager, or because they have kids of their own. I think the Never Again movement will make real change, but it will be gradual. As more and more young people become involved and realize the collective influence they can have over elections, elected officials will have no choice but to adjust their campaigns to appeal to a younger voting demographic.
Herrmann: So far I think the biggest accomplishment the movement can take credit for is the recent gun bill passed into law in Florida (Senate Bill 7026, also known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act). While it didn’t accomplish all the gun control measures that were requested, the fact that students and supporters were able to make substantial legislative changes to Florida’s gun laws within three weeks in one of the most pro-gun state legislatures is momentous and noteworthy.
What issues are we losing sight of or glossing over when we talk about mass shootings? How do we take a broader view of gun violence when mass shootings in schools are dominating the news cycle?
Evans: This cannot be stated enough: the NRA has an annual budget of a quarter billion dollars, and often uses an extreme argument (the government wants to take your guns and, ultimately, your rights) in response to reasonable arguments (restricting who can own guns and automatic firearms to prevent mass shootings). Coming to a consensus about the purpose of weapons that can fire ten or more rounds per second and deciding who, if anyone, should have access to these weapons that are capable of causing mass casualties, requires us to take a broader view.
Herrmann: Using 2015 data from the mass shooting tracker website massshootingtracker.org, we see there were 372 mass shootings in the United States, causing 469 gun fatalities and injuring an additional 1,387 victims. Compare those mass shooting numbers to broader gun violence deaths – there were 36,252 firearm deaths in 2015, comprised of 22,018 suicides, 12,979 homicides (which includes the 469 mass shooting fatalities), and 1,255 ‘other’ gun fatalities. The below chart shows that mass shootings make up less than 2% of all firearm-related deaths in 2015; moreover, school shootings are a very small percentage of mass shootings.
While the media may focus on mass shootings (especially school shootings), our gun politics debate needs to take into account the much larger context of suicide and homicide firearm deaths.
David Kennedy (Director, National Network for Safe Communities): When these mass shootings in schools occur, the public is rightfully outraged, but they are rarely as outraged by the gun violence that regularly causes trauma, fear, and grief in other communities. This is a problem, but also an opportunity to draw wider attention to the routine violence taking place in many marginalized communities. People should know that while we wait for broad solutions for preventing mass shootings, we already have immediate ways for states and cities to address this more frequent violence.
What gun restrictions or legislation, short of a ban, would be the most effective in reducing gun violence?
Yu: It is not that we not know how to have sensible gun control. The simple sad fact is that there is a lack of political, ideological and economic willpower to make this happen. It is startling how easy it is to be a gun owner. At least in the U.S., if you can afford a smartphone, you can afford a semi-automatic rifle. Once purchased, there are minimal to no ongoing maintenance expenses. This affordability allows a large number of people to own multiple firearms, and practice shooting or hunting as hobbies.
It is not a new idea to suggest registering all firearms with an agency, similar to drivers’ licenses. What about mandatory gun owner’s insurance, as expensive as motor vehicle insurance or even a mobile phone subscription? That ongoing expense would remind gun owners that they must take good care of their firearms and not let them fall into the hands of non-legal owners. It is not clear whether a measure placing an artificial economic burden on gun ownership will pass, but we have done this before by levying taxes (i.e., alcohol) or giving tax credits or subsidies as needed. Would it be crazy to add a tax on firearms? I think not.