Gun violence impacts every part of society. There are certain places in the world where it’s more prevalent. According to a 2018 report, the United States had the 28th highest rate of gun violence deaths in the world. That puts the US above other wealthy countries. Gun violence is also a major issue in places like the Caribbean, Central America, and Venezuela. Here are five essays that address the financial and emotional impact of gun violence, how people use art to cope, and how the problem can be addressed.
Mark Follman, Julia Lurie, Jaeah Lee, and James West
This article opens with the story of a woman and her fiance shot on their way to dinner. After being close to death and staying in a hospital for five months, Jennifer Longdon couldn’t move her body from the chest down. After more hospitalizations, the bills got close to $1 million in just the first year, forcing her to file for personal bankruptcy. More expensive hospital stays followed for problems like sepsis, while wheelchair modifications for her house added up, as well.
For many people, their knowledge of gun violence comes from the news or movies. These venues tend to focus on the moment the violence occurs or the emotional impact. The long-term financial consequences as a result of health issues are less known. This article examines the existing data while telling a personal story.
Mary Ann Jacob
In this essay from 2016, Mary Ann Jacob remembers the horrific elementary school shooting from 2012. She worked at the library at the time and recalls hearing shouting from the intercom on the morning of December 14. Believing someone had pushed it by mistake, she called in, only to have the secretary answer the phone and shout, “There’s a shooter!” Mary Ann Jacob lived through one of the deadliest school shootings in US history. The essay goes on to describe what happened after and the steps survivors took to advocate for better gun control.
In 2018, a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School killed 17 students and wounded 17 others. Several students became vocal afterwards, challenging the lack of gun control in the face of such violence. They founded an advocacy group and many of the young people became household names. Kyrah Simon, a senior at the school, lost one of her best friends. She also wanted to speak up and share her story but realized that the media wanted certain speeches, certain faces. She writes, “I was just a girl that lost her friend. And it wasn’t enough.” Raw, honest, and enlightening, this personal essay is a must-read.
In Culiacan, Mexico, the city with the highest rate of deaths by gun violence in the country, an artist and activist began a special project. Pedro Reyes used local media and TV ads paid for by the city’s botanical garden to advertise his gun-trading project. In exchange for bringing their weapons, people received electronics and appliances coupons. Reyes made over 1,500 trades. What came next? The guns were crushed by a steamroller and melted down. Reyes used the material to create shovels. He made the same number of shovels as guns, so each gun was represented as something new.
Turning guns into art is not an uncommon action. Reyes has also made instruments while other artists make sculptures. The transformation of an object of death into something that plays a part in fostering life – like planting trees – sends a powerful message.
What is the best approach to gun violence? David Hemenway, a professor of health policy and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center, advocates for a public-health approach. He believes gun violence is a public-safety problem and a problem-health problem, but gun lobbyists dismiss both claims. The gun lobby focuses on the shooter – the individual – so attention is diverted from the firearms industry. In focusing so much on who to blame, prevention is left out of the equation.
A public-health approach returns the attention to prevention and asks everyone to work together on the issue. Hemenway uses motor-vehicle injury prevention as a blueprint for why gun violence prevention can work. Not sure what prevention could look like? Hemenway provides examples of how actors like healthcare workers, consumers, and the federal government can work together.