The epidemic of gun violence: a national public health emergency

Guns on tables with American flags.

Photograph by Jason Francisco

Today is the 14th anniversary of the mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech. On April 16, 2007, a student gunman murdered thirty-two fellow students and faculty members, ranging in age from 18 to 76, before taking his own life.

Following each mass shooting in the United States, there is a period of anguish, and a commitment to enact gun safety legislation to reduce gun violence in the future. There has been progress in some states, but the effort to enact sensible gun legislation at the federal level has been a catastrophic failure, due in large measure to the influence of the NRA and gun manufacturers lobbies.

Roughly 38,000 people die by guns each year in this country, approximately 100 each day (Giffords Law Center). Thus in the 14 years since the Virginia Tech massacre, over 500,000 Americans have been killed by guns.

In 2020, even in a year of shelter in place, 19,393 people died in shootings or firearm-related incidents in the U.S. in 2020, the highest figure in over two decades, as reported by The Gun Violence Archive (Gun Violence Archive). In addition, 24,156 people committed suicide by shooting themselves. In total, 43,549 people died in gun violence deaths during the year – an average of 119 people every day. Thus far in 2021, 12,410 people have already been killed by gun violence: 5,414 by other shooters and 6,996 by suicide.

The Gun Violence Archive defines “mass shootings” as incidents in which at least four people were killed by a single shooter. There were 610 mass shootings in 2020, and 147 thus far in 2021, including the following incidents in the past month:

March 16, 2021, at spas in Atlanta, GA
Eight murder victims: Daoyou Feng (age 44); Hyun Jung Grant (51); Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz (30), Delaina Ashley Yaun Gonzalez (33), Suncha Kim (69), Paul Andre Michels (54), Soon Chung Park (74), Xiaojie Tan (49); Yong Ae Yue (63). Murder weapon: 9mm handgun.

March 22, 2021, at a grocery store in Boulder, CO
Tralona Bartkowiak (age 49); Suzanne Fountain (59); Teri Leiker (51); Kevin Mahoney (61); Lynn Murray (62); Rikki Olds (25); Neven Stanisic (23); Denny Stong (20); Eric Talley, the first police officer to arrive at the scene (51); Jody Waters (65). Murder weapon: a semi-automatic Ruger AR-556 pistol.

March 31, 2021, at a real estate office in Orange, CA
Murder victims: Matthew Farias (age 9); Leticia Sols Guzman (58), Jenevieve Raygoza (28), and Luis Tovar (50). Mathew Farias’s mother, Blanca Ismerelda Tamayo, remains hospitalized imn critical condition. Murder weapon: semiautomatic handgun.

Yesterday, April 15, 2021, a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis
At least eight murder victims, one suicide; the names and ages of the victims and perpetrator have yet not been released. Murder weapon: automatic or semiautomatic rifle.

So far in 2021, Indianapolis has had three of the twelve deadliest mass shootings in the US. In addition to yesterday’s FedEx rampage, a shooter killed four victims in an incident in March, and another gunman killed five victims in January. “Now we need to focus on the gun violence like a laser,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett following January’s mass shooting. “We’re seeing a rise in those types of social disputes which used to be resolved by somebody getting popped in the nose or some other nonlethal force. We see, in too many instances, conflict resolution being meted out by the use of guns.”

Gun violence is a national public health crisis requiring collective action with no less urgency than we have given to address the Covid-19 epidemic. We must act accordingly, at the federal level, and in every state.

The Biden Administration has called for Congress to pass legislation to reduce gun violence, including two bills passed by a bipartisan coalition in the House to close loopholes in the gun background check system. A broad array of legislative measures must be enacted. Meanwhile, on April 5, the Biden Administration announced a series of executive actions to address the gun violence public health epidemic (White House).

These executive actions are urgently required. But they are woefully insufficient.

We must empower our representatives to enact the comprehensive gun safety measures that the great majority of Americans wish to see enacted into law.

We do so through nonviolent, organized, disciplined, mass citizen activism.

Please join us in partnership with the Brady United Against Gun Violence, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, March for Our Lives, Everytown for Gun Safety, and community-based activist organizations throughout the United States to demand action commensurate with that required to eliminate the public health epidemic of gun violence in our country, once and for all.

Meanwhile, on this day, let us pause to honor the memory, and reflect on the humanity, of each person whose life was snuffed out by senseless and unnecessary gun violence in the past month, in the past year, in the 14 years since the Virginia Tech mass shooting, and each person murdered on that terrible day in Virginia, April 16, 2007:

Jamie Bishop (35)
Jocelyne Couture-Nowak (49)
Kevin Granata (45)
Liviu Librescu (76)
G.V. Loganathan (53)
Ross Alameddine (20)
Brian Bluhm (25)
Ryan Clark (22)
Austin Cloyd (18)
Daniel Perez Cueva (21)
Matthew Gwaltney (24)
Caitlin Hammaren (19)
Jeremy Herbstritt (27)
Rachael Hill (18)
Emily Hilscher (19)
Jarrett Lane (22)
Matthew La Porte (20)
Henry J. Lee (20)
Partahi Lumbantoruan (34)
Lauren McCain (20)
Daniel O’Neil (22)
Juan Ramon Ortiz (26)
Minal Panchal (26)
Erin Peterson (18)
Michael Pohle Jr. (23)
Julia Pryde (23)
Mary Read (19)
Reema Samaha (18)
Waleed Shaalan (32)
Leslie Sherman (20)
Maxine Turner (22)
Nicole White (20)

Gladys Perez