Estrich: Rising gun deaths a public health emergency

Gun Rights

A new report has found the gun death rate to be the highest in 40 years.

No one is exempt. More men are dying than women — by 86 percent to 14 percent — but deaths among women are increasing faster than those of men.

Race matters.

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Gender matters.

Age matters.

Young Black men are most likely to die: 142 per 100,000 is the homicide rate for those in their early 20s.

Black women are nine times more likely to die of homicide than white women. The homicide death rate last year was more than 18 per 100,000 for Black women, compared with about 4 per 100,000 for Latino women and 2 per 100,000 for white women.

The highest rates of gun suicides are white men in their early 80s, 45 per 100,000 according to the researchers from the University of Michigan, whose work was published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association Open Network.

Suicides are more common in rural areas, homicides in urban areas.

It is everything we know, only more so.

The question is whether there will be the political will to address what is clearly a public health emergency. Whether it is guns that kill people or people with guns who kill people — in the choice offered by sloganeers — the reality is that too many people are dying.

Why no declaration of a public health emergency? Why are we not doing the simple things that reasonable people can agree on to increase gun safety and reduce gun violence?

Every time a report like this comes out, public health experts will point out that we treat other inherently dangerous objects like automobiles with comprehensive systems of regulation, including training, licensing and regular inspection to ensure their safe use.

You even have to be insured.

Imagine that. Protect others against your own missteps.

Why not with guns?

The answer, the one we’ve settled for, is that any regulation will be the first step to outright bans and the confiscation of hunting rifles and the rest of the parade of horribles that won’t happen but has paralyzed the debate in this country for decades and allowed commonsense solutions to be cast as the work of extremists.

A poisonous debate produces no good answers, which has been the pattern for so long that we have come to accept it as inevitable.

We have been defined by the extremes.

The overwhelming majority that supports reasonable regulation is not out to confiscate the licensed firearms owned by law-abiding people who know how to use the weapons they store safely any more than we’re taking people’s cars away because we want them to get licenses.

The Supreme Court wouldn’t let us if we tried.

We can stop talking about what is never going to happen. The debate is stuck, which is the point, sadly. And so long as it is, the result is that no one listens, no one hears and nothing happens as more shots get fired.

It is the reality of doing nothing about the crisis that should shock us.

If the death rate among young white men were what it is among young Black men, would we let the National Rifle Association block commonsense solutions?

Would we accept as inevitable results that should shock us into action?

If white women were dying at the same rate as Black women, would we declare a public health emergency?

Would we insist on new programs, new efforts, new solutions?

Or would we sit back and do nothing about it, which is what we are doing now?

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