Gun violence in America is a national emergency. We are tired of suturing closed bullet holes that our society refuses to prevent. Congress should return to Washington during the August recess and legislate universal background checks for all gun sales, establish so-called red flag laws nationally, and fund gun violence prevention research.
As medical providers, we are gravely concerned about the impact gun violence has on our patients. Physicians are the last line of defense, witnessing gun violence in its numerous forms, including suicides, mass shootings, intimate partner violence, and accidental deaths. Almost as appalling as the recent tragedies in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, is Texas lawmakers’ lack of leadership during the recent legislative session to address the critical factors contributing to gun violence. Instead, Gov. Greg Abbott signed ten bills heralded by the NRA as liberalizing access to guns in our communities and places of worship.
Every hour, four Americans die a firearm-related death, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. Federal law requires background checks for firearms purchased through retailer sellers. However, millions of guns are sold or transferred annually through private dealers, online sales, or at gun shows without background checks. It is nonsensical for us to allow those with violent histories to purchase powerful weapons. We need background checks for all gun sales and, according to a Quinnipiac University Poll, 97 percent of gun owners agree.
Often times, shooters provide warning signs that they are considering harming themselves or others. This is when extreme risk protection orders, or red flag laws, can be very effective. They allow loved ones and law enforcement officers to ask a court to temporarily suspend a person’s access to guns when there are clear signs that the individual poses a threat to self or others. Research on suicides by scholars at Duke University shows that a red flag law in Connecticut saved one life for every 11 orders that were issued. Seventeen states have similar laws.
Finally, we need to harness the power of research to better understand the root causes of gun violence and to develop robust solutions that ensure safety and responsible gun ownership. Recently, the U.S. House allocated $50 million for gun violence prevention research, the first funding in 20 years. It’s time for the Senate to approve this provision during a special session this month.
Critics of these three legislative policies will argue that they violate the Second Amendment and will have limited benefit in reducing the incidence of gun violence.
However, no one policy can be the perfect solution to gun violence. Each of these policies helps safeguard our most sacred fundamental rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They have broad public support and collectively can protect the lives of our fellow Americans.
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