Summer is upon us and COVID is easing in negativity. We want to get out and enjoy life. Freely! Safely! Still gun violence remains a reality. As of mid-June, there have been 293 mass shootings, defined as four or more people killed or wounded, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA). This is over 1.5 a day. This past weekend, there have been mass shootings in six states. The GVA also reports a mass shooting increase of 40% over 2020, and over 65% over 2019. Furthermore, CNN reports that homicides increased by 33% in many major cities in 2020. The past weekend occasioned 10 mass shootings that left 12 people dead in seven states

Yet, we want to break free! What can we learn from data gathered by the Gun Violence Archive from 2019 to make us aware of gun violence tendencies in various situations, times and dates?

There were 417 mass shootings in 2019. The data reveals: 1) The most dangerous months are June, July and August, followed by September and October; 2) Five times more people are wounded than are killed; 3) In order, the most dangerous events and places are: Parties and bars, evenings and early morning after midnight, homes and apartments, random drive-bys, places of business, schools and places of worship. Taken together, parties, bars and evening/midnight gatherings accounted for more than 40x the danger than schools, 4x more dangerous than home or apartment shootings, and 120+x more dangerous than places of worship. CNN reports that weekend evenings and early morning hours are common GV times. The recent shooting in Austin, Texas, where 14 people were shot, occurred early Saturday morning on a crowded pedestrian street packed with bars and restaurants.

How can we be more gun safe? Gun violence (GV) does not take vacations and happens anythere at anytime. Yet, there are learnings which can make us more safe. It seems to me, the following red flags and cautions are important safety considerations: 1) Be selective about the parties you attend. Ascertain the “rowdy” factor. Assume that some people may be carrying weapons. Consider the possibility of leaving early; 2) Alcohol consumption is a stimulant which lowers one’s judgement and stirs violent propensities. Guns and alcohol/drugs are common gun violence ingredients; 3) Consider NOT taking a gun with you to a party or bar. An F.B.I. study concluded that an unarmed civilian is 20x more likely to stop a rampage shooting than an armed civilian; 4)Beware of the locations and type of bars you attend. Though I never frequent bars, I am aware of the locations and types of bars in various parts of the city; 5) The later in the night one drinks and parties the more GV risk surfaces; 6) Risks may be inside the buildings and also outside the establishments. Drive-by, random shootings are frequent. Do not linger outside a bar or party scene. Again, late nights mixed with social gatherings and alcohol are matches for GV; 7) Domestic GV is significant. A gun in the home increases chances of being killed by 72% and is 22x more likely to be used in suicide, homicide or accident than in self defense, and increases risk of an abused woman being murdered by 6x. Therefore, consider not having guns in the home. Yet, if you have guns in your home, unload and lock up the weapons, separate the guns from the ammunition and lock-up the ammunition separately. The presence of a gun makes everything worse. My mantra: what we own we will be tempted to use; 8) Schools and school events are some of the safest gathering places for youth, yet we know the tragedies that have occurred. If you have a child, make certain they do not carry a weapon to school. As parents, we can keep our children and others safe in school by locking up our weapons so they are not available to them for “safety” or harm in school. Most school shootings occur by youth finding and using weapons they procured from their homes. It is significant that school shootings spiked over three times between the 2000s and 2010s from 68 to 226 according to one study; 9) Places of worship and congregational gatherings are some of the safest places and times. Still, we have read of shooting tragedies within worshipping communities. Furthermore, context is caution. Two Jewish friends who attend two different synagogues, tell of police presence and armed guards within the synagogues during worship. Anti-semitism has reared its anger; 10) Some studies indicate higher suicide rates in situations and times when people want connection and social engagement. Suicides peak after midnight. Stress and depression are key triggers. The most dangerous seasons are spring and summer, when everything begins to awaken, activity is resumed, and the density of human interaction is resumed. Hence, late night partying coupled with alcohol and drug use can be triggers.

As a Christian, as I understand the Biblical witness, as I study the life and teachings of Jesus, as I consider the actions and confession of the ELCA, as I am inspired by the Fruits of the Spirit, I am convinced we need to study the data, learn from the data, and be wise in making GV prevention decisions for LIFE! God created us to be wise in moral decision-making, to see all people as our brothers and sisters, ALL of us given the precious gift of life for the sake of giving life to each other. BE SAFE!

Blessing and Peace!

Ron Letnes (Rev. Dr.)