America's Gun Problem & Solution
Credit: Dave Whamond, Canada, / CTNewsJunkie via Cagle Cartoons / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Susan Campbell

We can rake through statistics and news stories and we will still find that every single sad firearm event shares one element: Someone had access – sometimes legal access – to a firearm.

Yet every time it happens, we cast our net into the same waters, seeking answers. We wring our hands over our lack of mental health services and yes, we are in a mental health crisis. Earlier this year, the U.S. surgeon general said the crisis in mental health among our children is “the defining public health crisis of our time.”

But a mental health crisis is not it.

Some of us recite the Second Amendment – loudly – but we all know it by heart already, and while some of us know it’s an amendment and not a commandment, while we argue, more people fall into the line of fire.

So that’s not it, either.

Gun violence is the nation’s leading cause of premature death, and we didn’t just get here. If we will end the crisis, we will all need to play a role in the solution – including the press.

On Monday, police say a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill graduate student went on campus and shot and killed Zijie Yan, an applied physical sciences associate professor, who was also the alleged shooter’s faculty advisor. The two had, in fact, authored academic papers together. One such paper, “Optical Binding of Metal Nanoparticles Self-Reinforced by Plasmonic Surface Lattice Resonances” was published last month.

If you’re paying attention, you can see that relationship is getting quite a lot of ink, but the answer isn’t there.

In the past, the media focus would be on the alleged shooter. In this case, the press covered Dr. Yan’s impressive educational background, and that is a new approach. According to some CU-Boulder research, the press has shifted the narrative from examining the shooters to looking at the lives of the victims. Nevertheless, UNC coverage included cringe-worthy comments by friends and colleagues that the alleged murderer was the last person they’d have expected to commit such a heinous act. In addition, the alleged killer’s social media posts are being picked over like bones for one bit of information that would help explain why this happened.

All this falls into a familiar pattern, but we hadn’t even processed the racist shooting of three Black people in Jackson, Fla.  A sister of one of the victims, 19-year-old Anolt Joseph (AJ) Laguerre Jr., set up a GoFundMe to pay for his burial. So did the family of Yitzian Torres Garcia, the 7-year-old who was shot by a stray bullet and died in Tampa.

Recent research from University of Pennsylvania says that just half of the country’s shooting victims never make the news, which may encourage us to think we’re safer than we are. Some of the Connecticut-connected recent victims of gun violence:

Even with some of the strictest gun laws in the country, Connecticut residents remain under fire. So, yes, let’s discuss our lack of mental health services. Let’s consider more gun ownership regulation, and let’s have long conversations about what the Second Amendment actually means. Let’s ban assault rifles, disconnect “masculinity” from “violence,” and offer more trauma-informed healthcare. While we’re at it, we should address issues of poverty, and increase federal funding of gun violence research, which was confoundingly stalled for nearly three decades.

And yes. Let’s talk about how we should be telling these stories out loud. This is a public health crisis. Our politicians are only part of the answer. This is going to take all of us.

Author of "Frog Hollow: Stories From an American Neighborhood," "Tempest Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker," and "Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl." Find more at

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