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Gun deaths in America: How many more?

Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, said Saturday's mass shooting by a gunman who opened fire in an El Paso mall was a hate crime.

Twenty-five years ago, I was part of Maryland’s progressive gun violence prevention movement. My then-spouse had been shot in the head during a robbery in Baltimore. His high-profile shooting helped to harness the energy of an emerging group of people distressed by the rising number of gun-related murders, accidents and suicides.

Back then, we felt certain handgun violence could be prevented by reasonable gun control laws. We looked to Canada and European countries as places where life was valued above gun sales. Surely, we thought, common sense would prevail. We advocated for the elimination of straw gun purchases and the use of gun safety locks. We held hope in the emerging technology of fingerprint scanning that would limit the use of a handgun to its registered owner.

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A law enforcement officer stands guard outside the Walmart.
A law enforcement officer stands guard outside the Walmart. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre / EPA/Shutterstock)

We were hopeful even as parents lost children through guns — young men killed on the streets of Baltimore, children accidentally killed by handguns “hidden” in dresser drawers and teens who killed themselves with guns. My colleagues and I were on the front line of phone calls from parents whose children were yet to be buried; we were called on to request the return of bloody clothes held as evidence by law enforcement. Over time, political might won over bullet-ridden bodies, and America’s stomach for gun violence prevention waned — as did our hope for a less violent society.

Thirty killed in two mass shootings this weekend. Two hundred murdered in Baltimore this year. Sixty-five gun suicides per day in America.

Are we now angry enough to change the uniquely American tragedy of gun violence?

Today, nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicide. Accessibility of guns is contributing to suicide among teens, veterans, law enforcement and older people — representing nearly every part of our society. Suicide is private and quiet. Mass shootings are public and horrific. In cities such as Baltimore, gun violence is unrelenting. Children receive trauma care and practice school lock downs.

On the local news this weekend, a pediatrician discussed how parents engage in age-appropriate discussions with their children about mass shootings. He advised that, much like fire safety plans, families should develop a communication plan in the event of a public shooting.

Cathe Hill cries during a vigil for victims of Saturday's mass shooting in El Paso. "There's no such thing as a stranger here in El Paso," Hill said of the effect the shooting had on the community.
Cathe Hill cries during a vigil for victims of Saturday's mass shooting in El Paso. "There's no such thing as a stranger here in El Paso," Hill said of the effect the shooting had on the community. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Our lives have changed to adjust to the ramped-up reality of guns in our country. In recent years, I have witnessed armed guards at the sacred places of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Is this from an abundance of caution or a statement about the reality of the world we live in? Either way, it is painfully uncomfortable to accept this as a way of life in a country founded on the principles of liberty and justice.

The culture of gun violence cannot continue. In the past 25 years, we have shifted our cultural norms about drunk driving, seat belt use and bike helmets. With each issue, Americans changed their attitudes and practices for the sake of common-sense safety. The same can be accomplished with guns in America. We must act to protect the lives of those we love.

Here are some steps to move the needle:

1. Do not keep guns unlocked or unsecured in your home. Your children and teenagers will find them. They can easily inflict harm on themselves and others. Ask friends and relatives to do the same. To learn more about suicide, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at www.afsp.org.

2. Advocate for the availability of mental health resources at schools and other local places. Learn more from the non-profit Mental Health America, www.mentalhealthamerica.net.

3. Work to ensure gun violence prevention is a top priority for your elected officials. Learn about state gun laws at www.everytownresearch.org.

“We cannot let those killed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, die in vain,” the president tweeted Monday. “Likewise for those so seriously wounded. We can never forget them, and those many who came before them.”

He neglected to say: And the many who will come after — if we don’t act. Now.

Nancy Fenton lives in Baltimore; her email is nfenton1021@gmail.com.

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