Twenty years ago my niece was killed by a particularly American problem.
She was killed by a gun.
Shannon was sitting in her back yard in central Phoenix, talking to a friend on a mobile phone when a bullet dropped out of the sky and ended her life. Shannon was our sunflower, a bright, fourteen year old, excited about entering high school and a much-loved only child. She left behind devastated parents, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, school mates, and an entire shocked community.
We learned to get on with our lives, but the pain never goes away and is perhaps sharpest every time another child is killed or injured by a gun. And there are far too many. The gun death rate in the United States is ten times higher than any other high income country. Thirty-six thousand people, including three thousand children, die by guns every year.
What's really upsetting is the many people that say there is nothing that can be done, or even worse, that somehow having more guns around would reduce the level of violence.
After her death, Shannon's parents, Otis and Lory, learned that random gunfire is a persistent problem in Phoenix. Shannon's parents worked with elected officials and the community to pass a law in Arizona to stiffen penalty for such reckless action. Shannon's law passed in 2000 and, along with publicity campaigns on the dangers of random shooting, has reduced celebratory and random gunfire.
There's so much that can be done to save lives. Universal background checks on gun sales are shown to reduce gun deaths in states that enact them. A federal law would do even more. Red flag laws that take guns temporarily away from people considered to be a threat to themselves and others also save lives. There are a number of successful programs that have reduced violence in urban areas. These need to be expanded.
And there's hope this will happen. For years, Congress and many state legislatures have avoided doing anything. We finally have people running for office that aren't afraid to address gun violence.
We are in a country that solves problems, not ignores them.
It's un-American not to try.