I’d have to be clueless to quote statistics on gun violence before double-checking the source, and more importantly, how it was funded.
That’s why, when I discovered a study published by a nonprofit organization that documented gun violence in the U.S. by all 50 states, I made sure its donors included mainstream, non-partisan sources. I also checked to see if other reputable news outlets cited it. I found at least a half-dozen national papers quoting this same 2016 research, not to mention the Charleston Gazette-Mail, from our state capital.
The study, titled “America Under Fire,” is a compilation of 10 years of occurrences of several categories of gun violence from 2005-2014, using publicly-available reports from the FBI, ATF, the CDC, state and local police departments, newspaper articles, and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
So when I read that West Virginia, per capita, had more gun suicides than 43 other states; more fatal gun accidents than 46 other states; more “intimate partner gun homicides of women” than 39 other states; and more law enforcement officers “feloniously killed with a firearm” than 43 other states, I just couldn’t believe it. Especially hard to believe was that we had more mass shootings, per capita, than 48 other states. But that checked out, too: Morgantown (2014), Clarksburg (2013), Leivasy (2012), and Monongalia County (2011).
And we aren’t even the state with the highest percentage of gun ownership.
But mostly, it didn’t seem to fit with the statement from our 2nd District Congressman, Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., in his guest column titled “Defending the Second Amendment” this past May in a few papers around the state. He began the article by saying that “for West Virginians, guns are part of our way of life.” He didn’t give any indication that he is aware that in West Virginia, guns are also part of our way of death — far, far more than the national average.
It would have been the appropriate moment for him to have also recognized that West Virginia is first of all 50 states for “crime gun export rates” from 2010-2015. Instead, his appearance in the news was to publicize House Resolution 2443, co-sponsoring legislation to amend an existing law to expand federal gun rights.
I’m not here to pass judgment on the 2nd Amendment or Mooney’s resolution, but I would hope that my congressman, representing citizens who are disproportionately killing and being killed with firearms, might have some ideas on how to reverse that. I’d hope he would say that since we’re at greater risk for firearm accidents, suicide and domestic violence, that we’re in even greater need for access to medical and mental health care.
The freedom to own guns doesn’t give us the freedom from owning up to some big problems. If we know people are dying from gun violence, shouldn’t we note that, statistically, a good number of those people had no access to the kind of medical care that might have saved their lives?
A logical response from Mr. Mooney would be to work to ensure that West Virginians have better access to health care. But that is hardly accomplished by having 29 percent of people in this state be poor enough to qualify for government-funded Medicaid.
Even if we never passed any legislation restricting guns, there are still things we could do to prevent gun fatalities. We’re not helpless. A better response from “Lifetime A-Rated NRA Member” Congressman Mooney would be as simple as proposing to aggressively enact and strictly enforce gun safety, which is not the same as gun control. Even Mr. Mooney states, in his op-ed, that “Congress should make sure training is accessible for safe and lawful use.”
But a review of Mr. Mooney’s proposed bills in Congress does not show any record of him actually doing that, and his office could not confirm any legislation he has sponsored or supported on that subject.
However, because I had called his staff with this specific question, I received a letter from Mr. Mooney thanking me for “supporting our right to keep and bear arms.” He further stated that “I will continue to seek your feedback as I fight to stop liberal schemes to strip away the rights of law-abiding American citizens.”
It’s not a “liberal scheme” to say that firearms are dangerous; that’s the reason why people want them. Guns are not interchangeable with knives, vehicles or fists. Owning them comes with a risk, a risk we are free to choose — a choice made by a third of the American public. But that shouldn’t mean that the rest of society has to bear the risk that is taken by the private decisions of individuals, even if it is protected by the Constitution.
The 2nd Amendment, like any freedom and every right, comes with responsibilities. One of them is to recognize, and prevent, the consequences it creates for those who end up paying for it with their lives.