Behavioral Health
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Gun violence is a public health problem, and so is white supremacy

November 14, 2022
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Gun violence was deemed a public health issue in 2016 by the American Medical Association,[1] and is stated to be the leading cause of premature death, killing roughly 38,000 people a year.[2] Racism has been declared a public health crisis by over 209 jurisdictions since August, 2021 after the killing of George Floyd.[3] If gun violence is a public health crisis and racism is a public health crisis, then combined they are hyperendemic.

 Gun violence was deemed a public health issue in 2016 by the American Medical Association, and is stated to be the leading cause of premature death, killing roughly 38,000 people a year.

Cleveland hit a 30-year high in 2020 with 179. In 2021, there were 169 homicides, according to the city's data. This past summer, Mayor Bibb cited data from the CDC that states the leading cause of death of children in the United States is now gun violence. "I feel paralyzed and handcuffed by the lack of real comprehensive gun legislation in Congress and the fact that we have a state that doesn't give me, as mayor, the tools I need to combat the illegal traffic of guns that plague our city."

In January, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded a $700,000 grant to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office to help combat gun violence. The money will be used to strengthen the Cuyahoga County Crime Gun Intelligence Center. Admirable, but the total cost of gun violence in Northeast Ohio topped $100M since the beginning of 2020, according to data from University Hospitals and MetroHealth.

As laws protecting guns increase, so does gun violence

In the summer of 2022, gun laws became less restrictive and gun violence at the hands of citizens and police remained high. It’s a situation that begs a few questions: Why are guns becoming easier to access, when violence is so high? And, with the increase in violent incidents at the hands of white supremacists: “What segment of the population are gun laws becoming less restrictive for?”  

These questions resonate closer to home in Ohio, where Senate Bill 175, commonly referred to as “stand your ground,” was signed into law, which removes the duty to retreat in altercations involving self-defense and removes the ability of a jury to factor intent or consider the possibility of retreat. Thus, it has reduced the burden to retreat to that of “feeling threatened" when one is in a place where they are.  

Further relaxing the gun laws in Ohio in 2022 is Senate Bill 215, which acknowledges a constitutional right to carry and removes the gun training requirement for qualifying Ohioans over the age of 21 years old.

 Police shootings increased nationally in 2021 to 1,055 shootings from 1,021 in 2020.

Concurrently, police shootings increased nationally in 2021 to 1,055 shootings from 1,021 in 2020;[4] gun violence deaths rose to 49,000 in 2020;[5] and there was an average of 600 mass shootings in 2020.[6] This national data is ever present in Ohio, where high profile police killings and gun violence preceded the passing of the laws.

Gun violence is a public health problem, and so is white supremacy

Most notable and recent are this summer’s incidents, the first being the case of the unarmed Black man in Akron, Ohio shot by police, just two weeks after it became legal to carry a weapon without a license. It was alleged that he possessed a gun, but that should not have warranted his body being decimated by over 40 bullets in a state which allows the legal carrying of a handgun. Even if he was in the wrong, there is due process and consequence for those who break the law, and being shot on sight is not it.  

Then came Uvalde and Buffalo, mass shootings committed within a week of each other by white supremacists in which the targets were people of color. In Uvalde, Texas 19 children and two educators were killed at an elementary school. In Buffalo, New York 10 Black people were killed, and 3 injured in a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood.  

Initially, it would seem these incidents of violence fueled by racism and the deregulation of guns were isolated, but when examined more closely, an intersectional thread of white supremacy, political violence, and the current public health crisis emerges. Laws around gun ownership, access, and safety have to become an integral part of the public health conversation, as well as the ideals and values of those who are deciding these gun laws.

 The anxiety produced this summer because of the mass shootings and police became a heavy invisible cloak that seemed to never be noticed outside of our communities.

Gun laws do not protect Black people; they target us

For many people of color, and many Black people, the leniency of gun laws over the past two years seems to have given those who are filled with hate and rage a license to kill. For many of us, the summer of 2022 proved that the laws governing access to guns were not for people like us, they were in fact to protect those looking to harm us. For us, gun violence is a health problem, white supremacy is a health problem.  

The anxiety produced this summer because of the mass shootings and police became a heavy invisible cloak that seemed to never be noticed outside of our communities. They did not notice their peers of color or Black peers, racing heart palpitations, or clammy skin and tear-filled glossy eyes during the day because another law was passed or a gun incident occurred that would further diminish our humanity and make us question, “What segment of the population are gun laws becoming less restrictive for?” Those outside of our community did not see the irony between advocating for food benefits and healthcare access while ignoring one of the largest killers of people of color--gun violence-- or acknowledging it as a growing public health crisis.  

It’s more comfortable to advocate for safe and more palatable issues around health and human services, however for many people of color, that privilege doesn’t exist. Whether they are dodging bullets from gun violence in their neighborhood, or ardently trying to avoid being the next victim of police brutality or a mass shooting, gun violence and racism are hyperendemic to their everyday lives.  

[1] https://www.ama-assn.org/press-center/press-releases/ama-calls-gun-violence-public-health-crisis  

[2] https://www.ama-assn.org/press-center/press-releases/ama-calls-gun-violence-public-health-crisis  

[3] https://www.apha.org/-/media/Files/PDF/topics/racism/Racism%5FDeclarations%5FAnalysis.ashx  

[4] https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2022/02/09/fatal-police-shootings-record-2021/  

[5] https://wonder.cdc.gov/controller/datarequest/D176;jsessionid=A632661E26BC73A20D24018AF1C9  

[6] https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting?year=2020

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