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Firearm Violence is Not Inevitable

The last few weeks have brought us Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton––more mass shootings, more deaths by firearms. We grieve with the victims, their families, and their communities.

This spate of violence hits home. When we drive back from out of town on the 101 freeway, we know we are nearing home when we smell garlic. It is part of Gilroy, and the Gilroy Garlic Festival is in our county, less than an hour from our offices. We remember those lost, those injured, and those frightened and scarred. We stand with them, and we, like so many others, have contributed to the Gilroy Garlic Festival Victims Relief Fund to help our neighbors and our community heal.

Beyond that response, however, we believe it is important to remember that firearm violence is not inevitable. It is preventable.

One of our grantee partners, Dr. Garen Wintemute at the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program has identified a key policy approach. In research published this week, Dr. Wintemute and his colleagues report that gun violence restraining orders, so called red flag laws, may have already saved lives and prevented shootings in California where they have been implemented.

Other solutions are out there too. We have joined with other funders in two pooled funds, the Hope and Heal Fund, which focuses on California, and the Fund for a Safer Future, which works nationally. Each supports a range of organizations and approaches to address and prevent firearm violence.

These organizations and their work convey some important truths. Firearm violence should be seen for what it is: a public health problem. Just as we do for other public health problems, we should rely on research, not rhetoric, to guide our actions, and we should undertake those solutions that research and evidence dictate.

Further, just like most thorny public health problems, there is no single solution to the problem of firearm violence. But pointing out that any single solution is not the whole answer does not mean we should not try to implement promising approaches. Adding seatbelts didn’t end all motor vehicle fatalities, but it helped, as did campaigns to prevent drunk driving, the addition of better braking systems, airbags, and alerts when cars drift across lanes or when there are cars in blind spots.

Almost 40,000 people die each year by firearm. In 2017, close to 24,000 died by suicide, over 14,500 died by homicide, and almost 500 through unintentional injuries. We should remember and grieve for each of them, but, above all, we should remember that their deaths were preventable.