Opinion: Michigan school shooting is indictment of deadly gun culture

People comfort each other while visiting a memorial being built at an entrance to Oxford High School on December 1, 2021, following an active shooter situation at Oxford High School that left four students dead and multiple others with injuries. (Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

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People comfort each other while visiting a memorial being built at an entrance to Oxford High School on December 1, 2021, following an active shooter situation at Oxford High School that left four students dead and multiple others with injuries. (Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

Credit: TNS

As Congressman John Lewis famously asked, ‘How many more must die?’

Atlanta pediatrician John S. O’Shea has a long history of child advocacy. He led the Rhode Island Hospital Child Abuse Team from 1975 until 1980. After moving to Atlanta in 1990, he was director of general pediatrics at Emory University for two years and then director of pediatrics at Meridian Medical Group for eight years.

Since 1975, O’Shea has worked to reduce injuries to children and teens from car crashes, helping to strengthen child restraint and teen driving regulations in Georgia. An adjunct professor of pediatrics at Emory, O’Shea supports stronger gun laws to protect children as he discusses in this guest column.

By John S. O’Shea

Although much has been made of the fact that four students were killed by an armed 15-year-old in a high school in Oxford, Michigan, our country is still having many such mass killings with an unchanging daily average of 109 deaths over the past several years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of these deaths are not even publicized. But the four at Oxford High School were, including the discovery that the shooter’s parents had recently bought a semiautomatic handgun as a holiday present for him.

President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama became proactive about tamping down on gun violence. Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate has remained steadfast in rejecting multiple gun safety bills, but at least some members of Congress — including the late Georgian John Lewis — staged a sit-in in the House several years ago demanding gun safety legislation.

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Dr. John O'Shea (Courtesy photo)

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Dr. John O'Shea (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Custo

Combined ShapeCaption
Dr. John O'Shea (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Custo

Credit: Custo

Congressman Lewis also made a speech that should have shamed the entire country into buckling down on gun violence. The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear a challenge to Connecticut’s 2013 law banning some semiautomatic weapons. Some federal funding for gun safety research has resumed recently but is still limited. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now resuming major funding of gun research.

Among those daily 109 gun deaths, there are four victims on average each day who are under age 18. The overall gun death rate is 4.5 per hour, equaling one every 13 minutes. Whatever it takes and however long, we have to decrease those 109 daily gun deaths. Truly nationwide background checks, requiring “smart” guns, regulating gun distribution, and forbidding armor-piercing bullets would be steps in the right direction, as would more research on the details of the impact of gun violence, but sooner or later we will need to eliminate almost all guns from our country.

Look at how many Americans die from guns compared to the rest of the world. According to the World Population Review, the U.S. annual death rate from all guns is 12 people per 100,000 population, five times that of France, 14 times Australia’s, 29 times the Netherlands, 61 times the United Kingdom’s, and 610 times Japan’s rate. In the United States, 39,800 people die each year from guns, compared to 1,500 in France, 206 in Australia, 72 in the Netherlands, 126 in the United Kingdom, and 23 in Japan

If you look at suicides with firearms, the U.S. death rate is five times France’s, 10 times Australia’s, 30 times the Netherlands’, 46 times the United Kingdom’s. Japan has basically no gun suicides.

All of these countries have much tighter gun laws than the United States. Australia has seen a marked decline in gun murders and in suicides since enacting tighter gun laws that require almost all firearms to be registered by their owners.

Bringing a gun into a home to protect one’s family — or to be used as a gift — is more like bringing in a time bomb. A supposedly normal person who owns a gun is much more likely to commit suicide or to kill a loved one than to kill a criminal. As a 2013 study by Harvard Medical School and School of Public Health and a 2020 study published in Current Opinion in Pediatrics Journal have shown, laws resulting in fewer guns in our homes are accompanied by dramatic decreases in suicides and homicides by firearms, and in less killing of civilians by police.

Although gun safety legislation is under consideration nationally and in some states, not much progress has been made yet, and some states are weakening their gun safety laws. Recent studies in peer-reviewed medical journals have clearly shown that states with the strictest gun control laws have indeed been found to have many fewer gun deaths than those with less strict ones.

As Congressman Lewis asked his colleagues in his 2017 speech: “How many more must die? But there’s no number, is there? There’s no amount of blood or pain or death or suffering that would move this Congress to act. We hold moments of silence and vigil. We offer our thoughts and prayers, but it’s all a show, a placeholder until people forget.”