Science & Nature

Kids’ mental health becomes part of the plea for gun control

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Gun restrictions are on the docket for Congress and several state legislatures this week after President Joe Biden addressed the nation to urge lawmakers to ban the sale on assault weapons and pass other control measures. The spotlight on gun violence reflects an urgent public health crisis that has left a nation physically and mentally shaken.

The 17-minute address on June 2 came after a mass shooter killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. A few days prior, a white supremacist killed 10 people and wounded three more in a supermarket in a predominately Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. This past week also saw shooting sprees in Oklahoma, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. So far there have been 246 mass shootings in 2022 alone, according to NPR, with many young casualties. In fact, over the past decade, 1 in 4 victims of mass shootings have been kids or teens. Research also shows that adolescents who survive these crises experience high levels of anxiety, PTSD, and suicidal ideation.

[Related: How to manage your mental health as traumatic events pile up]

“After Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando, after Las Vegas, after Parkland—nothing has been done,” the president said in his speech.

One of the solutions President Biden proposed was the reinstatement of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. The law created a federal ban on the “manufacture, transfer, or possession of a semiautomatic assault weapon” and also prohibited the possession or transfer of large-capacity ammunition devices that carried more than 10 bullets. It barred over 12 types of guns until 2004, when Congress chose not to renew the policy.

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A 2019 study from New York University School of Medicine found that while the 1994 ban was in effect, the number of mass shooting deaths declined. Once it expired, however, the death toll tripled from 4.8 deaths to 23.8 shooting-related deaths per year. More broadly, assault rifles made up 85.8 percent of the deaths in 44 mass-shooting incidents between 1981 to 2017.

Restoring the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines might lead to fewer deaths and injuries. Data on the past decade of mass shootings compiled by Everytown for Gun Safety found that these types of firearms were used in the five deadliest mass shootings in the US. Using an assault weapon also makes a person six times more likely to be hit during a mass shooting. 

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While most gun control measures have focused on assault weapons, other solutions have also been proposed. “If we can’t ban assault weapons then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21; strengthen background checks; enact safe storage laws and red flag laws; repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability; address the mental health crisis,” Biden said in the address. He then wrapped up the evening with a spotlight on mental health resources. “Even before the pandemic, young people were already hurting. There’s a serious youth mental health crisis in this country. We have to do something about it. We must provide more school counselors; more school nurses; more mental health services for students and for teachers.” It remains to be seen if lawmakers act on these calls for safety.

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