Gun vi­o­lence is leav­ing us de­sen­si­tized to blood­shed

Houston Chronicle - - OUTLOOK - By Shreela V. Sharma Sharma is a lo­cal epi­demi­ol­o­gist in Hous­ton.

The one-year an­niver­sary of the shoot­ing in my West Univer­sity neigh­bor­hood was Sept. 26, when a seem­ingly nor­mal, or­di­nary guy, Hous­ton lawyer Nathan DeSai, wreaked havoc on a quiet Mon­day morn­ing, un­load­ing a shower of bul­lets on passersby at a time and place when chil­dren were head­ing to school and adults start­ing their work day.

News re­ports said the res­i­dents of the neigh­bor­hood were lucky, con­sid­er­ing there were no fa­tal­i­ties, ex­cept for DeSai him­self. Nine oth­ers were in­jured. And I re­mem­ber think­ing to my­self, “How are we lucky? We are in the midst of an out­break of gun vi­o­lence in this coun­try.”

Ex­actly a year later, on the an­niver­sary week of my neigh­bor­hood shoot­ing, I woke up on Oct. 1 to read about the shoot­ing in Las Ve­gas: An­other seem­ingly nor­mal, or­di­nary guy, Stephen Pad­dock, un­leashed a bar­rage of bul­lets, killing 58 peo­ple and in­jur­ing more than 500.

While these two in­ci­dents may seem mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive — hap­pen­ing in two dif­fer­ent states, a year apart, by two un­re­lated in­di­vid­u­als with dif­fer­ent mo­tives — they are un­doubt­edly in­tri­cately linked by the large num­ber of guns and am­mu­ni­tion these men owned and had ac­cess to. Be­fore the Las Ve­gas mas­sacre, I was sad­dened by the death of a 2-year-old boy, Kyree My­ers, in Columbia, S.C., who ac­ci­den­tally shot him­self with a gun he found in the fam­ily’s home on Sept. 6. He died. An ac­ci­dent, you might say. De­spon­dent over his son’s death, Kyree’s fa­ther fa­tally shot him­self.

“Tremen­dous loss of life,” news re­ports said. Let me add to that and say, “Tremen­dous loss of lives that could have been saved.”

We are in the midst of an out­break of gun vi­o­lence and con­cur­rently in de­nial that this could hap­pen to us. The de­nial is re­flected in our com­pla­cency on this is­sue, es­pe­cially among those elected of­fi­cials who have the power to do some­thing about it. More­over, the per­ceived risk of be­com­ing a vic­tim of gun vi­o­lence is low, even among gun own­ers, re­sult­ing in in­ac­tion on ad­vo­cacy for in­creased aware­ness and stronger mea­sures to stem the vi­o­lence.

Ac­cord­ing to Gun Vi­o­lence Ar­chive, a non­profit cor­po­ra­tion that tracks gun­re­lated vi­o­lence in the United States, there have been more than 48,000 in­ci­dents of gun vi­o­lence so far in 2017, re­sult­ing in more than 12,000 deaths. Since 2014, there have been nearly 200,000 in­ci­dents of gun vi­o­lence in the U.S. re­sult­ing in more than 40,000 deaths.

Let me put this in per­spec­tive: The U.S. has the high­est rate of death from gun vi­o­lence among devel­oped coun­tries — 3.85 deaths per 100,000, com­pared with 0.07 deaths per 100,000 in the United King­dom or 0.12 deaths per 100,000 in Ger­many in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute for Health Met­rics and Eval­u­a­tion at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton. We have also be­come de­sen­si­tized to this out­break.

One re­al­ity of epi­demics is they be­come com­mon­place or “en­demic” to a so­ci­ety. So­ci­ety has be­come de­sen­si­tized to gun vi­o­lence, which has be­come com­mon­place or “en­demic” to Amer­ica. Every day there are re­ports about in­ci­dents of gun vi­o­lence in our own neigh­bor­hoods or around the coun­try. It gives us pause and per­haps we pray for a minute. But we move on to other news. So the per­ceived sever­ity of the is­sue of gun vi­o­lence gets di­luted.

While DeSai and Pad­dock pulled the trig­ger, per­haps we all are re­spon­si­ble to a de­gree for the death and may­hem that fol­lowed. No, we didn’t own the guns they used, but we as a so­ci­ety failed to take ac­tion through pre­ven­tion. Pre­vent­ing gun vi­o­lence through reg­u­la­tion is as nec­es­sary and cost-ef­fec­tive as seat-belt laws to pro­tect our­selves and our chil­dren, im­mu­niza­tions to cur­tail deadly dis­eases or smok­ing reg­u­la­tions to pre­vent lung can­cer. Most peo­ple prob­a­bly wouldn’t let their child smoke. Why? Be­cause it could kill them, not im­me­di­ately but years later. Well, guns can kill and it’s usu­ally im­me­di­ate.

A 2016 re­view of 130 stud­ies in 10 coun­tries, pub­lished in Epi­demi­o­logic Re­views, found that new gun reg­u­la­tions can re­sult in a sub­se­quent drop in gun vi­o­lence. Re­stric­tions on pur­chase, ac­cess and use of firearms were associated with re­duc­tions in firearm deaths. Pe­riod.

Surely the right to live for some­one like 2-year old Kyree and oth­ers su­per­sedes our need for easy ac­cess to guns and the vi­o­lence that fol­lows.

Hous­ton Chron­i­cle file

Nathan DeSai opened fire in West Univer­sity, in­jur­ing nine peo­ple, be­fore he was killed.

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