On this day five years ago, nine lives were taken at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. The mass shooting is a gruesome manifestation of the intersection of racism and gun violence. Sadly, both problems remain just as prevalent today as they were five years ago.
In the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many other Black Americans, confronting racism has taken center stage in our national conversation. Our hearts are broken with each of these deaths, just as they were by the murders in Charleston five years ago. White supremacy is deeply embedded within our nation, and the mass shooting in Charleston was another horrific chapter in a long history of Black lives lost due to racism.
The mass shooting in Charleston was another horrific chapter in a long history of Black lives lost due to racism.
The connection between racism and gun violence has long existed. Just a few months before the tragedy at the Emanuel AME Church, the Charleston community lost Walter Scott – a Black man shot to death by a police officer. His death sparked a nationwide outcry and mourning. The parallels between Walter Scott’s death and the events of recent weeks are striking and underscore just how far we still have to go to achieve justice.
While incidents like the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church and killings of Black people like Walter Scott and Rayshard Brooks grab the headlines, the larger issue of gun violence is more complicated.
Levels of gun violence remained steady in early 2020, before increasing with the onset of COVID-19. The uptick in gun violence was fueled by a spike in gun purchasing in mid- and late-March. As people were confined to their homes by stay-at-home orders, calls to domestic violence and suicide hotlines spiked. These unusual circumstances, combined with an increased number of guns in homes, proved to be a deadly combination.
The New England Journal of Medicine recently released one of the most expansive studies on gun ownership and gun violence, studying 26 million Americans over a span of 12 years. The result: gun owners were nearly four times as likely to die by suicide than people without guns. This is especially dangerous considering that nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths are suicides.
Extreme risk protection orders help remove a gun from someone who is a threat to themselves or others.
Extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) are a crucial policy that help remove a gun from someone who is a threat to themselves or others. Policies like ERPOs needed to be in place before COVID-19. They are even more important now. On average, ERPOs prevent one suicide for every 10-20 orders issued. They’ve also prevented mass shootings and racist hate crimes from occurring.
We cannot wait for another tragedy like we witnessed at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston before Congress takes definitive steps to address gun violence. We can help stem the loss of life we are witnessing in the time of COVID-19.