(Photo credit: Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune)

By Karen Sheehan, MD


“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Attributed to Albert Einstein

I think that quote sums up pretty well our relationship with responding to mass shootings in this country. With the recent horrific event in Orlando, we are saddened, traumatized, outraged, and then, we will most likely move on, unable to enact any meaningful measures that will prevent the next nightclub or school or church massacre.

Similarly, the daily Chicago shootings may not fit the standard definition of mass shootings, but the unrelenting carnage puts our city’s violence in a category all of its own. According to the Chicago Tribune, shootings are up 50% compared to last year and there were 42 wounded and 7 killed this past weekend — a relatively light number in our new version of normal — unless you were one of the victims or a family member or a friend.

We have all heard the phrase “guns don’t kill people, people do,” and I think that is true. Violence is a learned behavior and many environmental factors put one at risk — lack of economic and educational opportunities, poor access to mental health services, etc. But guns make violence much more lethal. It is much easier to kill a person with a gun (especially an AR-15) compared to a knife, compared to a fist. Just think if the assassin in the Orlando night club was armed with only a knife or his fist – innocent people may have been hurt, but it is reasonable to surmise that the amount and severity of injury would have been much less.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that our current approach to gun safety isn’t working.

So what can we all do?

  • Contact your legislators to urge for tighter gun safety. It might not seem like you’re making a difference but if we don’t begin to speak up, how will we be heard?
  • Research the problem. Gun violence should be treated as a public health issue. Just like we reduced motor vehicle fatalities and stopped the spread of Ebola, we should use data to inform solutions for reducing gun violence. Right now, data on the circumstances surrounding firearm injury and death is incomplete, and there is limited funding for gun-violence prevention research.
  • Change the way we talk about gun violence. Let’s focus on how and why gun violence occurs. Too often, especially in Chicago, the daily shootings are reported without context, as though they are box scores from a baseball game. Let’s not forget these numbers are real people with families and friends who are also impacted.


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