There is one book I’ve wanted to write for nearly a decade. It’s been atop my professional bucket list. The dream became a reality two years ago when I started working on it. For the past year I’ve been writing non-stop. My publisher has kept the book under wraps. But a public announcement about the book will be coming soon.
In the meantime, my blog has been on hiatus. That will change soon as well. In the meantime, today I’m using this space to share a VERY IMPORTANT op-Ed about the coronavirus that my son Tennyson published in the Hartford Courant. Actually, his piece isn’t really about coronavirus. It’s about a much more deadly public health crisis that is receiving far less attention. I hope you’ll take a minute to read it.
There’s another public health crisis that is deadlier than the coronavirus
by Tennyson Benedict, a student at the University of Connecticut School of Law.
As I follow the news and panic surrounding the coronavirus, I’ve become increasingly resentful that another public health crisis does not receive a similarly urgent response. That public health crisis is gun violence.
Coronavirus may be a frightening, disruptive and deadly disease. It is certainly a threat to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. At the same time, it’s frustrating that a pandemic that has killed nearly 5,000 worldwide so far has dominated the national conversation when 39,773 Americans died of gun violence in 2017, the most recent year for which complete data is available.
As of Thursday morning, 37 Americans had died from COVID-19. In comparison, 51 people were gunned down in Las Vegas in 10 minutes in October 2017.
I am far more scared of being shot and killed in a grocery store or in a movie theater or at a music venue than I am about dying from a disease. I have good friends who are public school teachers. I’m far more worried that they and their students will be shot in the classroom than they will die from the coronavirus.
As state governors began declaring states of emergency, I began imagining what life in America would be like if we treated gun violence as a health crisis of the same magnitude as COVID-19. The national news would be totally consumed with the daily gun-death toll. Schools would retreat to online classes to protect their students from deranged gun owners. Citizens would think twice about visiting any public area. Perhaps those who manufacture bullet proof vests and the like would engage in price gouging to profit from the crisis. The wealthiest citizens would invest in armed protection.
Of course, gun violence has not had this paralyzing effect on American society. To the contrary, it’s as though we have decided that the death toll from guns is so high that it is somehow a normal part of life.
We’ve had decades to aggressively tackle endemic gun violence in this country. To this date, there has been almost no federal action taken to curb gun violence — unless you count meaningless gestures like “thoughts and prayers” from lawmakers. In contrast, the federal government allocated $8.3 billion to fight COVID-19 in under two weeks.
I recognize that COVID-19 is a public health emergency. But so is gun violence.
Take last summer for example: There were 26 mass shootings in 18 states between
Memorial Day and Labor Day. Thousands more are killed by guns in domestic situations. Gun-related domestic killings rose by 26% between 2010 and 2017. In 2017, 926 women were killed by their partner with a firearm.
Even more sickening is the number of minors killed every year with firearms. The activist organization Everytown has compiled one of the most comprehensive databases on United States shootings. Their findings reveal that firearms are the leading cause of death for American children and teens. Ironically, children and teens have demonstrated a particular resilience to COVID-19. China, the nation hardest hit by the disease, has reported that no children have died from COVID-19.
I’m not arguing that the public and government response to COVID-19 is irrational. Rather, the response to COVID-19 highlights the irrationality of our social acceptance of a violent crisis that plagues no other developed nation. Maybe the coronavirus will help us put our gun violence epidemic in perspective — perhaps we will look at our gun death statistics with a new feeling of horror.
On average, 100 people die every day from firearms in America. This means that in approximately 43 days, we will have lost an equal number of U.S. citizens to gun violence as the entire world has lost thus far to COVID-19.
Federal lawmakers normalize gun violence when they proudly declare their opposition to gun policies that would slow the body count. Imagine the public outrage if members of Congress promised their constituents to fight against a federal response to COVID-19.
There are two epidemics in America. The federal government is fighting the novel epidemic and ignoring the deadlier one.
I don’t worry about catching the coronavirus, but I do worry about catching a bullet.