Nearly 200,000 students walked out of class on March 14th to protest gun violence (#ENOUGH) in the United States. The country has a rich history of student activism and protests. Students led the movement for school segregation in the 1950s and for voting rights in the 1960s. A student movement arose in the 1960s to demand free speech on college campuses and an end to the Vietnam War. And, fifty years ago this month, in the first walkout of its kind, thousands of Chicano high school students from Los Angeles walked out to protest racism and failing schools.
While the US Congress has failed to pass any legislation on gun control since the Sandy Hook shootings six years ago, the majority of Americans favor stricter gun laws— 60% according to a 2017 Gallup poll. Though opinions vary by party affiliation, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center study:
- 89% favor preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns.
- 82 to 85% favor banning gun purchases to persons on no-fly or watch lists.
- 77 to 90% favor background checks for private sales and at gun shows.
- 54 to 80% favor banning assault-type weapons.
- 56 to 84% favor creating a federal database of gun sales.
- 46 to 79% favor banning high capacity magazines.
GUN VIOLENCE IN THE US
Americans own half of the world’s guns. The US has the 37th highest of gun violence rate in the world, eight times greater than Canada, and 27 times greater than Denmark. While the US has more guns per capita than the residents of any other country, it will surprise you to know that we’ve had a massive decline in gun violence in the US over the last 25 years. In 1993 there were 7 firearm homicides per 100,000 people; in 2013 that number had dropped by nearly half to 3.5 firearm homicides per 100,000.
And, what’s even more surprising is that mass shootings are roughly as common now as they were in the 1980s and 1990s. Over the past decade, mass public shootings have not become more prevalent; they have become more deadly. Researcher Grant Duwe defines a mass public shooting as:
any incident in which four or more victims are killed with a firearm within a 24-hour period at a public location in the absence of other criminal activity (robberies, drug deals, gang “turf wars”), military conflict or collective violence.
Up until 2013, an average of 20 victims were killed in mass shootings. Since 2012, the average has been more than 20 victims every year, except one (2014). According to Duwe,
“Research shows that the number of victims killed and wounded are the strongest predictors of the extent to which a mass killing gets reported by the news media. Recent growth in the number of catastrophic mass public shootings—combined with the extensive, wall-to-wall news coverage that accompanies these tragedies—likely accounts for the commonly held misconception that mass shootings are now more frequent.”
GUN USE IN THE US
When the public conversation demands gun reform, gun sales increase, but overall, gun ownership among Americans is at an all-time low. In the 1970s about half of American owned guns; now 30% do. And, the population that owns guns is getting older; fewer young people buy guns. Here are some demographics of gun ownership from Pew Research:
- Gun ownership is more common among men than women.
- Republicans are twice as likely than Democrats to own a gun.
- 67% of gun owners had guns in their household growing up.
- 67% of gun owners say they own a gun for protection.
- 66% of gun owners have more than one gun.
- 29% of gun owners own five or more guns.
- 36% of white people, 24% of black people, and 15% of Hispanics own a gun.
- 48% of white men own a gun as compared to 24% of men of color.
- 40% of high school graduates own a gun as compared to 26% of college graduates.
- Gun ownership is highest in the south (36%) and lowest in the northeast (16%).
- 48% of rural residents own guns compared to 28% in the suburbs and 19% in urban areas.
- The average age at which Americans become gun owners is 22 although 37% were younger than 18.
According to the United Nations,
“…homicide is much more common in countries with low levels of human development, high levels of income inequality and weak rule of law than in more equitable societies, where socio-economic stability seems to be something of an antidote to homicide.”
GUN LAWS AND DECREASE IN VIOLENCE
Firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation, especially in states that:
- ban assault weapons
- require trigger locks
- mandate safe storage requirements for guns
California does even more:
- universal background check system
- retention of purchase records
- limiting handgun purchases to one a month
- assault clip ban
WHAT THE STUDENTS WANT
The National Student Walkout demanded only three things from Congress:
- Ban assault weapons
- Require universal background checks before gun sales.
- Pass a gun violence restraining order law that allows courts to disarm people who display warning signs of violent behavior.
Students do not want teachers to be armed. They fear that this will make schools feel like prisons and have detrimental effects on students of color. To find out what you can do to support the students, go to the National School Walkout website, elect public officials committed to gun violence reform, and run for office yourself.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded Mothering.com in 1995. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.