‘We have to look in the mirror’: Professors say data, science has answers to ending gun violence

University of Michigan professors react to the mass shootings in Boulder, CO and Atlanta, GA.
Posted at 6:27 AM, Mar 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 06:27:51-04

MICHIGAN — As soon as news emerged about the shooting in Boulder, CO, that claimed 10 lives, including a police officer, at the King Soopers supermarket, Marc Zimmerman began texting his friends who live in the area to express his condolences.

“One said they used to shop there all the time. Their kids would go there. When it starts hitting home, it's a different kind of meaning I think,” Zimmerman said. “My heart just goes to the communities again affected. When will it knock on our door? We have to do something.”

Tuesday morning, senators met for a hearing about gun violence. Yesterday's mass shooting happened a week after a gunman shot and killed eight people at three different massage parlors in the Atlanta, GA, area.

“What happens in this committee after every mass shooting is Democrats propose taking away guns from law-abiding citizens because that's their political objective, but what they propose--not only does it not reduce crime, it makes it worse,” said Sen. Ted Cruz during the hearing. “The jurisdictions in this country with the strictest gun control have among the highest rates of crime and murder. When you disarm law-abiding citizens, you make them more likely to be victims. If you want to stop these murders, go after the murderers."

Zimmerman, who’s a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said the issue of gun violence is not a partisan issue nor is it a debate about gun control.

He said people have to change the way they look at the crisis.

RELATED: Is new gun control legislation possible in Congress?

“I would reframe it. It’s not about gun control, you know, no more than driving safely was about car control,” Zimmerman said during a Zoom interview Tuesday afternoon. “People can buy cars. People can drive. But when we started seeing that drinking and driving didn’t mix, we started making laws about no drinking and driving.”

Zimmerman said it’s about looking at the research and science in order to understand the factors that lead to mass shootings and how to prevent them.

“Maybe some of the questions might be access to firearms. But, it may also have to do with our mental health systems and access to healthcare and access to mental healthcare,” said Zimmerman, who’s also the director of Michigan's Youth Violence Prevention Center. “Most people who have mental distress are not violent, just like most people who have guns are not violent.”

His colleague Patrick Carter agreed. He noted that every year, 40,000 people die from firearm-related injuries in the United States. He believes everyone, on both sides of the debate, agree that something needs to be done to curb the violence. However, the conflict arises on how to achieve that goal, because the violence impacts everyone.

“They affect people of all ages and in all communities,” said Carter, who’s an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan. “This affects rural communities, urban communities. It affects kids and adolescents where firearms are the second-leading cause of death. It’s a leading cause of suicide among older adults. This is a problem that affects all of our communities.”

Carter added that as much as policy makers are needed to help end the crisis, so are community members. He said honest conversations about solutions is going to require everyone’s input.

“The questions are not limited to policy, and the answers aren’t limited to just policy,” said Carter, who’s also the director of Michigan’s Injury Prevention Center. “I think as Marc sort of alluded to, how do we create safer communities? We don’t need just people at the table who are sort of traditional advocates for safety. We also need need gun owners at the table.”

Carter said the solutions aren’t about taking away guns from legal owners. It’s about increasing safety while reducing the number of deaths.

He added that in recent years the NIH and CDC have increased funding for firearms research, which is helpful. However, both Zimmerman and Carter believe that gun violence is a public health crisis and it’s going to take a village to fix it.

“We have to look in the mirror and say what kind of society are we creating for our kids and for each other that this is sort of an outcome of frustration or distress or whatever it is,” Zimmerman said. “And, we have to learn more about it.”

RELATED: These are the 10 victims of the Boulder King Soopers shooting