Dana Kellerman: The day Pittsburgh joined Parkland and Uvalde on that list
DANA KELLERMAN Special to the Post Gazette APR 27, 2023 12:00 AM
This week, the process of selecting a jury begins for the man who goes on trial for the October 27, 2018 antisemitic gun massacre at my synagogue. On that day, Pittsburgh and Squirrel Hill joined the list. That list. The one which includes Parkland, Thousand Oaks, Sebring, Virginia Beach, El Paso, Dayton, Odessa-Midland, Boulder, San Jose, Buffalo, Uvalde, Highland Park, Nashville, and Louisville. Cities now known more for their mass shootings than their recreational attractions, industry, schools, or sports teams. Here in Pittsburgh, eleven people were murdered, six injured, and nine families will never be the same. Three congregations were stricken and an entire community changed forever. And yet, mass shootings are just the tip of a bloody iceberg. In 2022, 44,343 Americans died in gun homicides (18,624), suicides (24,090), and unintentional shootings (1629), up from 43,675 in 2020. Gun homicide and suicide rates rose by 8.3% from 2020 to 2021, which was already up 35% from 2019, according to CDC data. Guns are now the biggest killer of children in this country, 1682 died in 2022 alone. The percentage of homicides and suicides committed with firearms also rose. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of gun homicides rose 45% while the number of non-gun homicides rose only 6%. The government does not track firearm purchases so we do not know exactly how many guns were sold, but it should be clear that guns are driving the increase in homicides. We don’t have precise information on gun ownership in the U.S. because most guns are unregistered and the list of registered guns published annually by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms does not include ordinary handguns or AR-15s. We do know that between 2019 and 2021 the number of firearms background checks, an estimate of firearms sales, rose 37%. During this time gun homicides and suicides rose over 35%.
In 2022, 129 people in Allegheny County died in shootings, 32 of them were under the age of 20. In a single week last October, 16 people were shot in the City of Pittsburgh, at least one every single day. Three died. Six people at the Destiny of Faith Church were shot at a funeral for a person who was themself shot to death. The toll that gun homicide and suicide takes on our country is stark. The distribution of this violence may be surprising to some. Of the five states with the highest per capita rate of gun deaths, every single one (Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and West Virginia) is a deeply conservative state with lax gun laws.
Of the eight states with the next highest rates, seven are solidly conservative and all have extremely lax gun laws. Of the five states with the lowest rate of gun deaths (Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island), all are solidly liberal states with strong gun laws. Eighteen states rank lower than Pennsylvania for gun deaths. Gun deaths are significantly lower in states with strong gun laws. This is true despite the preponderance of large cities in these states. Additional factors in these same states likely play a role, including economic policies that address joblessness, and social policies that address poverty, domestic violence, and mental health (including suicide prevention). We should pursue these policies and stronger gun laws. Americans of both political parties broadly support common sense gun policies, including universal firearms background checks, red flag laws, raising the age to purchase a weapon to 21, safe storage laws to prevent children from accessing guns, and bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
While support for better gun laws is a non-partisan issue among voters, it has become deeply partisan among legislators. Few to no Republicans in the Pennsylvania state legislature or in Congress support strengthening gun laws while most Democratic legislators do. This will not change until all of us demand stronger gun laws from our elected representatives. It will not change until we punish those legislators who either vote against or refuse to consider stronger laws by voting them out. You cannot claim to care about gun violence and support legislators who do not. Too many people right here at home are dying every single day.
Dana Kellerman is the policy director for Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence and a member of Dor Hadash, one of the three congregations attacked on October 27, 2018. First Published April 27, 2023, 12:00am