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Keeping Our Neighbors Safe

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
May 8, 2021

Over the past year there has been a significant uptick in gun related violence across the county, which has led me to wonder, where does public administration have the opportunity to make a difference? According to a report by NBC news, just this year alone there have been 160 shootings from January to April, compared to 90 shootings during the same time in 2020 that included loss of life of at least 4 individuals per event. As pandemic related fears of safety, tighter gun control laws and changes in policing measures rise, so too has the sale of handguns across America. As public administrators it is our duty to ensure an informed public understanding of the rights and responsibilities of gun owners and to protect our vulnerable neighbors at the same time. It is vital that we have secure gun laws that both uphold the amendment rights of our communities within reasonable limits and also maintain secure operation of those weapons for the safety of all.

Greater access to handguns, especially to first time or untrained owners, can often lead to increased incidents of violence and suicide; especially during times of high stress, anxiety and depression. During the pandemic, where there has been an increase in unemployment, poor health indicators and harder-to-access support services, there has also been higher rates of domestic violence and suicides, as people have become more isolated, angry and frustrated with their circumstances. According to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, merely having a gun in the home immediately increases the likelihood it will be used, whether it is for self-defense or self-inflicted injury. These are some the stories we have seen in the news: curious children exploring cabinets or closets at home and finding a handgun, bullied youth who see no other option than retaliation with force and domestic violence victims reaching for their only hope of self-defense. An astonishing 60% of deaths by gun are self-inflicted suicides; staggering numbers such as this are avoidable with targeted policy and legislative work through which we can make a difference.

As public administrators, it is important to explore how we can have impacts against growing numbers of gun violence across America, and part of that work involves addressing drivers of inequity in our communities; poverty, income inequality, underperforming schools and under-resourced public services. Working toward improving access to services, quality of life for neglected communities and improved health outcomes, as well as interrupting domestic violence trends are all vital to this process. These are the prime areas in which we can have significant impacts, and as policymakers and community leaders it is our duty to make our communities safer for everyone. Even if this means limiting access to deadly weaponry by those looking to gain greater access. Some of the safety measures that have been put in place to protect citizens from gun violence include universal background checks, gun licensing, banning assault style weapons and outlawing the sale of high capacity magazines. Increasing safety measures around gun control could have a direct impact on decreasing the number of gun-related deaths in our nation, and it is up to us to direct those conversations and provide education on how we can do this together.

If we are to draw a comparison to something so simple as becoming a licensed driver, we know that to get behind the wheel of a vehicle we must study traffic laws, pass a written and driving test, obtain insurance and register our vehicles in a timely manner. So why is it such a stretch to understand and implement guidance and laws related to safe gun handling and ownership? Through increased regulations we could potentially decrease the incidents of gun related violence and better facilitate safe gun handling, and ensure healthy, safe communities moving forward. We have the opportunity as advocates and leaders to encourage those in positions of power to move toward increased oversight of gun control. We must continue to fight for our communities and their safety, and make potentially unpopular but realistic decisions when it comes to regulating access to deadly weapons. We live in a time of great uncertainty and have the unique opportunity to make our mark on the future of legislation. I would thus encourage you to advocate for the safety of your neighbors and those you represent.

Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and public administrator in Washington State. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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