Stocks may be down, but gun sales are up. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, as calls to defund the police gained momentum, gun shops experienced a surge in business much as they did during the early weeks of COVID-19 — most notably from first-time buyers fearful for their safety.
But increasing the number of guns on the streets does not make us safer, just as increasing the police budget does not make us safer. Both of these solutions are motivated by fear, rather than logic.
If the police are abolished, the argument goes, won’t we bear the burden of defending ourselves?
On the one hand, I get it. Earlier this summer, as helicopters hovered over Minneapolis, tanks rumbled through the streets, and rumors of violence and fires spread through my neighborhood, I, too, found myself wishing I had more than an ancient baseball bat for protection.
On the other hand, I’ve seen the statistics. I know that if I bring a gun inside my house, I’ll make my home less safe. The presence of that gun will increase the likelihood of accidental death and suicide. Evidence also shows that it will triple the risk of domestic homicide. “Efforts to increase home security have largely focused on preventing unwanted entry,” concludes a gun violence study in the New England Journal of Medicine, “but the greatest threat to the lives of household members appears to come from within.”
Not only is my gun statistically more likely to harm a member of my household than it is to harm an intruder, studies also show that if I do attempt to use a gun against an intruder, there’s a greater chance that I’ll wind up injured than if I choose to hide or run away.
Guns make every situation more deadly. Although the general crime rate in America is comparable to that of similar countries, the homicide rate is much higher. Study after study has demonstrated that where there are more guns, there is more violence.
As a recent op-ed in The Washington Post argued, “Police reform and gun reform go hand in hand,” particularly since systemic racism undergirds them both. Police kill Black Americans at twice the rate of white Americans, even though 13% of the total population is Black and 75% is white. Although gun violence is the second-leading cause of death for all young Americans, it’s the first-leading cause of death for young Black men. The victims in the spate of recent Minneapolis shootings are disproportionately young men of color.
Currently, as a powerful piece in The Trace observed, the specter of guns haunts every interaction between Black communities and the police. Even gun control measures such as illegal gun arrests target Black residents at a higher rate than white, despite the fact that white Americans are more likely to own guns.
So what can you do if you’re concerned about your safety?
If you support gun control legislation that works, tell your state senator to approve the bills that were passed by the House in February.
If you’re skeptical of the current research on gun violence because you think it’s funded by special interest groups, advocate for more government funding on this issue.
Most importantly, support community-led anti-violence programs that are proven to work. Gun violence is most intense in neighborhoods that have good reason to distrust the police, which is why it is imperative that we redirect money from the Minneapolis police to community-centered groups such as the Gun Violence Intervention initiative, Protect Minnesota, and Reclaim the Block.
Instead of buying more guns to create the illusion of home security, let’s direct our dollars instead toward organizations that are already implementing research-based, strategic violence intervention programs to improve the safety of our city.
Lindsay Starck is an assistant professor of English and associate director of the MFA Program at Augsburg University in Minneapolis.
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