“No mother should ever have to cradle her dead child in her arms simply because politicians refuse to do what is necessary….” (President Donald Trump, July 22, 2020). Virtually all Americans can agree with these words about gun violence, even as we may disagree about the precise definition of what it means to “do what is necessary.” Although these words were spoken to justify a specific planned action, can we step back for a moment and ask ourselves: What if we were really committed to this idea? What might really reduce the risks that children face from gun violence?
These words were spoken to justify one specific action: increasing the number of law enforcement officers in specific cities who are beyond the control of local officials and are not trained to address the root causes of gun violence. Sadly, the words were spoken without consideration for a range of actions that might actually reduce the risks to children. It is as if the lethal objects themselves—guns—must be taken for granted as freely available and inevitably proliferating with minimal controls. In fact, however, the limited legal definition of the Second Amendment gives us a wide range of possibilities for considering policies that could reduce the risks that children face from gun violence.
If we agree with that statement then shouldn’t we discuss (among other potential proposals)…
» Limiting the types of guns as well as the ammunition capacity of firearms available to the public. Many of the highest casualty mass shootings, including the school shootings at Newtown, Connecticut, and Parkland, Florida, involved military-style rifles.
» Mandating—with sanctions for non-compliance—the safe-storage of firearms so that children and teens cannot gain access that contributes to accidental shootings, suicides, and homicides.
» Universal background checks for all firearms sales with no automatic approvals simply because it takes several days to complete the background check.
» Restrictions on carrying firearms outside one’s home.
» Increased funding for research on the causes, circumstances, incidents, and consequences of governmental firearms policies and gun-carrying practices of the American public.
None of these potential proposals are solutions that will cure the problem of gun violence. Yet, all of them would likely save some children’s lives if implemented.
While pushing for a slight increase in the number of law enforcement officers in a major city is unlikely to have any significant impact on gun violence, especially if they are federal officers trained for immigration enforcement rather than urban policing, there are programs that show potential for positive results (See sources below). Thus, if we were serious about asking what can be done, we would invest in programs that work with at-risk teens and young adults, including gang-involved individuals. We need to communicate the consequences of firearms violence while simultaneously creating new opportunities for alternative pathways to stability and success. In the current moment, with increasing job losses and inadequate income supports for families facing financial crises, we must worry that social circumstances—despair, lack of opportunity, distrust of police, and readily available firearms—may exacerbate gun violence problems, including suicides. Sadly, we do not show any genuine concern for the lives of children—or adults—with a reflexive acceptance of inadequate firearms regulations and the misguided reliance on a symbolic show of force by police as the sole remedial response to gun violence.
Azrael, Deborah, Anthony A. Braga, and Mallory O’Brien. 2012. Developing the Capacity to Understand and Prevent Homicide: An Evaluation of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.
Braga, Anthony A., David M. Kennedy, Elin J. Waring, and Anne Morrison Piehl. 2001. “Problem-Oriented Policing, Deterrence, and Youth Violence: An Evaluation of Boston’s Operation Ceasefire.” Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 38(3):195–225.
Braga, Anthony A., and Glenn L. Pierce. 2005. “Disrupting Illegal Firearms Markets in Boston: The Effects of Operation Ceasefire on the Supply of New Handguns to Criminals.” Criminology & Public Policy 4(4):717–48.
Braga, Anthony. 2008. “Pulling Levers Focused Deterrence Strategies and the Prevention of Gun Homicide.” Journal of Criminal Justice 36(4):332–43.
Corsaro, Nicholas, Eleazer D. Hunt, Natalie Kroovand Hipple, Edmund F. McGarrell. 2012. “The Impact of Drug Market Pulling Levers Policing on Neighborhood Violence: An Evaluation of the High Point Drug Market Intervention.” Criminology and Public Policy 11(2):167-99;
Groff, Elizabeth R., Jerry H. Ratcliffe, Cory P. Haberman, Evan T. Sorg, Nola M. Joyce, and Ralph B. Taylor. 2015. “Does What Police Do at Hot Spots Matter? The Philadelphia Policing Tactics Experiment.” Criminology 53: 21-53.
Makarios, Matthew D., and Travis C. Pratt. 2012. “The Effectiveness of Policies and Programs That Attempt to Reduce Firearm Violence: A Meta-Analysis.” Crime & Delinquency 58(2):222–44.
Woytus, “AR-15 Guns and School Shootings: How Many Assault Weapons Have Been Used in Schools in 2018?” Newsweek, May 29, 2018