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Most Victims of Gun Violence in US Not Killed in Mass Shootings

  • Carol Pearson

The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. on gun control. In Orlando, there have been more tributes to victims, more candles lit in their honor...while in Washington, more debates about gun control. Senators voted down four proposals aimed at keeping suspected extremists from acquiring guns.

In the House of Representatives, members also took up gun legislation.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the task is not impossible. "There are solutions, and for political reasons, people are not doing the kinds of things you would normally do if we had airplanes crashing every day."

Federal agents investigate every U.S. plane crash. Yet 33,000 people die each year in the U.S. because of gun violence. About two-thirds of those are suicides, the rest are victims of homicides. Even more are wounded, but there's no federal study on how to reduce gun violence or how to make guns safer. The Centers for Disease Control — the CDC — tracks the cause of death, but that's about all.

Center for Gun Responsibility board members applaud at a news conference in Burien, Wash., where Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide public health initiative to reduce and prevent firearm-related injuries and deaths, Jan. 6, 2016.

Center for Gun Responsibility board members applaud at a news conference in Burien, Wash., where Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide public health initiative to reduce and prevent firearm-related injuries and deaths, Jan. 6, 2016.

No federal safety research

"The CDC does fund research in injury prevention, but none of their funding goes toward gun violence prevention," Shannon Frattaroli told VOA via Skype. Frattaroli is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the School of Public Health. Frattaroli said Johns Hopkins is careful to prevent any money provided by the CDC from being used to study gun violence.

Congress cut out funding for gun research in the CDC's budget in the late 1990s after the National Rifle Association charged that the CDC's research was biased. ((http://abcnews.go.com/Health/cdc-launched-comprehensive-gun-study-15-years/story?id=39873289))

Researchers charge that Congress doesn't treat gun violence as the critical public health issue that it is. And while mass shootings – generally defined as shooting incidents with four or more victims - are widely publicized, they represent only a small number of the people who die from gun violence. There were 372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker website.

Yet, after mass shootings, weapons sales soar, including sales of assault weapons, such as the one used in the Orlando nightclub shooting. Gun shop owners say the sales increase because people are afraid these weapons will be banned after yet another mass shooting. The shop owners also say most people buy guns for personal protection.

Georgia state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, right, shakes hands with Assistant Legislative Counsel Julius Tolbert in Atlanta after a Senate committee approved Jasperse's bill that would permit those with concealed carry weapons licenses to bring their guns onto public college campuses, March 7, 2016. Georgia's governor later vetoed the bill.

Georgia state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, right, shakes hands with Assistant Legislative Counsel Julius Tolbert in Atlanta after a Senate committee approved Jasperse's bill that would permit those with concealed carry weapons licenses to bring their guns onto public college campuses, March 7, 2016. Georgia's governor later vetoed the bill.

Greater risks

Benjamin said having a firearm at home puts everyone in the home at greater risk of being shot. "It turns out that that the people that are more likely to hurt you with your firearm are either yourself, or someone who knows you. The risk that people have around the intruder coming to you with their gun, is far less risky than people think it is."

Benjamin added that there's not enough research to determine how likely it is that a robber will use a homeowner's gun against the victim of a break-in.

"We've also not tested methods that make a lot of common sense around how to have a firearm in a home, and make safe with a firearm," he added. Benjamin cited examples of better education programs that include where to store guns and ammunition so children and others can't get hold of them.

"We’re not talking about Draconian science, we’re talking about common sense studies that help us understand how to make ourselves safer in our communities," Benjamin said.

Experts say they need more information on just about everything related to gun violence and gun ownership in order to make it safer. One thing they do know is who is most likely to commit murder.

In the Skype interview, Frattaroli said, "One of the best predictors of who is going to commit gun violence is who has been violent in the past."

She noted that includes people who abuse members of their families, including their spouses. The former wife of Omar Mateen, the Orlando gunman, said he beat her, even when she was sleeping.

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