American gun violence today
 On an average day, gunshots injure more than 300 Americans. 200 survive while more than 100 perish. In 2021, 47,000 Americans died from guns, an increase of 44% over the last decade. This loss exceeds record highs in the 1990s, although death rates today remain slightly lower. Males account for over 85% of these shootings—as victims and perpetrators. 54% of gun deaths in 2020 were suicides, mostly by White men ages 75 and up followed by Indigenous men ages 15-35 and young Black men. When homicides are added to suicides, the gun fatalities for Black men ages 20-24 are nearly ten times higher than the national rate (14.7 per 100,000), which has risen nearly 50% since 2000.
 Homicides in 2020 accounted for 43% of gun fatalities. Mass shootings have recently become more frequent and deadly but still account for less than 1%. About 1.5% of homicides are women killed by male partners. Gun violence has increased for young Americans. Firearms are now the leading cause of death for youth ages 1-19. 4000 died in 2020, mostly from homicide followed by suicide.
 Homicides and suicides are among the five leading causes of death for Americans ages 1-44. 79% of homicides are gun-related, 53% of suicides. Gun homicide rates are highest among Americans ages 15-34 and BIPOC individuals. Since 1990, over 1 million Americans have perished from guns (roughly equal to deaths in war since 1775). 60% were White, 26% Black, and 10% Hispanic. Urban rates of gun homicide are slightly higher than rural. Rural rates of suicide are markedly higher than urban. These rates have risen equally in recent years.
 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), gun shootings cost Americans an estimated $410 billion each year in medical costs, work loss, quality of life loss, and total value of life loss. Prior to the pandemic, 40% of American households owned nearly 400 million guns. 40% are handguns, which account for most shootings. During the pandemic, 5% of Americans became new gun owners. 18% of U.S. households purchased a gun between March 2020 and March 2022, raising the household rate to 46%.
 U.S. gun death disparities across age, gender, and race can be extended to the nation. U.S. mass shooters, who have killed more than 1400 Americans, accounted for about 30% of global totals between 1966 and 2012. According to a new study, Americans accounted for 73% of 139 shootings in 36 developed countries from 1998 to 2019. With 4.25% of the world’s population, the U.S. has among the highest numbers of mass shooters per capita. Among developed nations, the U.S. stands alone for the number of guns per capita, the frequency of mass shootings (only the U.S. has one or more every year), rates of firearm deaths, and constitutional protections to bear arms. Americans today are vastly more likely to die from a gun than people in other developed countries.
ELCA policy and witness to date
 How has the social policy and public witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) responded to domestic gun violence? Since 1989, synods, churchwide assemblies, and leaders have joined the polarized American debate about guns. This debate has focused upon questions of personal freedom and state control of access to guns. The ELCA has addressed these questions in two policy texts adopted in 1993 and 1994. Following a 1993 resolution that strongly affirms state regulation of guns, the 1994 text develops a community peacemaking ethic that goes beyond access control. It calls for a comprehensive response of prevention and restraint to the complex and interconnected nature of gun violence.
 Since the 1990s, the ELCA has also developed teaching and policy on many matters relevant to gun violence. This thought stands ready to inform a comprehensive response. However, this response remains undeveloped, despite frequent public witness on guns over the years. Today, an emerging public health movement offers aims and practices the ELCA can embrace toward a community peacemaking ethic. The ELCA can and should fulfill its 1994 commitments by joining a consequential turn in public thought and life about gun violence.
 ELCA gun policy was codified during a time marked by record gun violence. Public alarm about juvenile “super predators” and growing gang activity further energized an already strident national debate. In January 1989, a troubled 24-year-old man with a criminal record and resentment toward Asian immigrants, returned to his grade school in Stockton, California. He brought a recently purchased AR-15-style rifle (hereafter, “assault rifle”) and two handguns. Firing 130 rounds in less than two minutes, the shooter killed five Cambodian and Vietnamese students and wounded 29 students and a teacher—and then killed himself.
 This shooter made national news and fits a profile of American mass shooters that Jillian Peterson and James Densley have developed. Later that year, the ELCA took its first action on guns. It approved a social policy resolution calling for congregational study and for government officials to explore an assault rifle ban, which happened five years later in 1994 with a federal ban on certain weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
 The Stockton killing deserves mention because it triggered national debate and galvanized efforts toward the 1994 ban, which lasted until 2004. This federal policy reflects the influence of mass shooting in shaping American understanding and action on gun violence. According to Peterson and Densley, shock, outrage, and remembrance are goals of mass shooters. Americans pay attention to impersonal and ruthless killings that occur to various individuals and groups in workplaces, schools, clubs, houses of worship, concert venues, theatres, and stores.
 As with the nation, mass shootings have influenced ELCA policy and witness as well. Since 1989, the ELCA has adopted eleven social policy resolutions and four social messages that directly or indirectly speak to gun violence. Five social statements on race, ethnicity, and culture; the death penalty; peace; criminal justice; and sexism address questions relevant to gun violence. Two statements from the Conference of Bishops address guns directly. Presiding Bishop Eaton has written nine pastoral letters to ELCA members and public officials on gun violence, all prompted by mass shootings. The 1993 and 1994 policy texts respond to mass shootings.
 In addition to prompting public awareness and outrage, mass shootings raise divisive questions of access control that have defined the modern American gun debate. These questions cohere with a dominant ethic of liberal individualism that guides and justifies America’s permissive culture of gun ownership. This ethic privileges and affirms personal freedom so long as it does not harm or create risk of harm to others. Debates about access control involve discourse about forms and degrees of harm and risk. They involve distinguishing benign gun ownership and use from high-risk forms of possession that warrant justifiable limitation of freedom.
 This liberal individualism finds expression in the 2008 Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller that extended Second Amendment rights to bear arms to private individuals. However, as Heller made clear, this entitlement is not absolute. The state can infringe upon individual liberty through policies and laws that protect the public health and safety of citizens. However, the burden of justification falls upon the state to show probability and magnitude of harm.
 Access control assumes most guns owners are nonviolent and precautional toward other people and themselves—and they are. It seeks minimally necessary and effective limitations upon potentially violent actors to reduce and restrain public harm through policy and law enforced by police and judicial power. Access control places the burden of containing violence upon the state. Individual gun owners are not obligated to reduce the collective risks of gun ownership in American society. Gun ownership does not involve an earned social privilege grounded in altruistic duty to respect and benefit others above all. It embodies a personal entitlement with a minimal public duty to avoid harm to others, which most gun owners keep without strong regulatory coercion.
 In what way, then, has the ELCA embraced American access control? In what way has the ELCA diverged from this project? In 1993, the Churchwide Assembly adopted an emphatic policy resolution addressed to Congress and the President as well as ELCA congregations, synods, and agencies. First, it expressed “urgent concern” about “the violence associated with the widespread availability of handguns and military assault weapons.” Second, it authorized support for the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act adopted later that year. Named for James Brady, the White House press secretary shot and paralyzed during the assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981, Brady ended a twenty-five-year hiatus in federal gun legislation. It mandated an interim five-day waiting period for handgun purchases in anticipation of a federal criminal background check system for all firearms. Third, and going well beyond Brady, the resolution outlines a call for local, state, and federal legislation that “rigidly controls the manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, purchase, transfer, receipt, possession, or transportation of handguns, assault weapons and assault-like weapons and their parts.” Finally, the resolution calls for a social message on gun violence as a matter of urgency. In a time when the National Rifle Association (NRA) strenuously opposed Brady (and the 1994 federal assault rifle ban), this 1993 resolution takes an equally strong stand by calling for total regulatory control by the state of a large sector of the gun market. Firearms for sporting, policing, and military uses are explicitly exempted.
 Within a year, the ELCA adopted a social message on community violence. It provides insight into why this church takes a stand on access and yet calls for more action and change. A critical turn from citizen rights to community peacebuilding occurs in the first section of this message. The text situates gun violence within a culture of violence that affects all Americans. It speaks of different forms of violence that pervade public and private life and cause widespread fear. It notes that many personal and social problems (fourteen are mentioned) “lie behind the incidence of violent crime today. Fear, anxiety, and alienation are expressed through readily available weapons of destruction.” Speaking to cycles of community violence, the text notes that “many ordinary citizens” understand gun possession “as their last line of defense against the chaos in society, or at least a means by which to get some respect.”
 These and other observations in the text describe gun violence as complex and interconnected. The text outlines an ethic of nonviolence and peace that interprets the teachings of Jesus as restorative because our enemies are our neighbors (consistent with the 1991 social statement on the death penalty). Accordingly, “[w]e are empowered to take up the challenge to prevent violence and to attack the complex causes that make violence so pervasive.” The text speaks to this complexity with a long list of counter-violence commitments that bear witness to God’s peace.
 How does this 1994 social message align with the 1993 call for total regulatory control of handguns and assault rifles? It explicitly affirms this policy but adds that this stance “cannot presume to stop the tide of violence, much less address the causes.” The text goes on to distinguish between short-term measures to “counter” violence and long-term measures to address its many causes. The access control measures of the 1993 resolution are short-term. They embody a Lutheran political ethic that understands access control to be necessary restraint of violence to safeguard the vulnerable neighbor.
 So understood, when the ELCA affirms access control, it resists the liberal individualism and Second Amendment allegiance that dominate the American gun debate. Rather, this church seeks “to hold government accountable for protecting society and ensuring justice for all.” In this way, the 1994 social message affirms and yet relativizes access control by situating gun ownership within community peacemaking. It understands Christian freedom as self-giving love of neighbor that includes the calling of statecraft to restrain violence through coercion.
 Before we consider the prospects for this peacemaking turn today, it should be noted that ELCA public witness on guns has sounded more like the 1993 resolution than the 1994 message. Community peacemaking (reinforced by the 1995 social statement on peace) receives little amplification in subsequent texts and messaging. In 2013, the Conference of Bishops releases a pastoral letter that states, “To focus only on guns is to miss the depth of our vocation. Yet, guns and access are key to the challenges we face.”
 That same year, the Churchwide Assembly adopts a resolution on confronting the culture of violence in the U.S. and encourages members to advocate for universal background checks, gun trafficking prevention, and theft reporting. This resolution does make mention of suicide deaths and calls for preventive action. This, however, is the only attention gun suicide has received to date. In 2016, the Churchwide Assembly adopts a resolution that includes minimal mention of 1994 commitments to peacemaking and focuses instead upon advocacy for state control of guns, specifically, background checks and renewal of the 1994 assault rifle ban.
 When Presiding Bishop Eaton addresses gun violence, again her pastoral letters are prompted consistently by mass shootings. In some letters, the roots of these events in racial, gender, and religious bias and hatred are noted and condemned. Some commend peacemaking. In almost all, the core message to political leaders and ELCA members calls for greater regulation and restriction of gun access.
 Presiding Bishop Eaton’s most recent letter of March 2021 exemplifies well a pattern of ELCA public witness that focuses upon mass shooting and access control. These messages provide some explanation of what causes this violence. They draw insight from Christian theology about God’s will and the human condition. They reiterate, as they should, authorized ELCA teaching. However, messaging to date has yet to advance the promise of 1994 policy to move from American gun control to a community peacemaking project that seeks prevention and restraint of all forms of gun violence.
From access control to public health
 Before we consider what the ELCA can and should say about gun violence today, what is happening in wider society? Public attention focused on mass shootings to the neglect of other forms of gun violence does not help Americans to deal responsibly with the scale and scope of the problem. Yet, these events have long served to provoke critical reckoning and corrective action. The passage in June of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is a case in point. It has been heralded as the first federal legislation since the 1994 assault weapons ban. It was also opposed once again by the NRA. The month of May saw two horrific mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. On May 24, the day of the Robb Elementary shooting, Republican Senate leaders met to commence action on this bill, introduced by Senator Marco Rubio seven months earlier. Within a month, the bill was adopted.
 Given the significance of mass shooting in American life, it should be understood well, which new research like that of Peterson and Densley provides. They argue U.S. shooters typically share four traits: 1) childhood trauma, 2) an identifiable crisis point, 3) a script to follow and someone to blame, and 4) opportunity. They hold that each dimension matters and call for short-term and long-term responses. Access control is about opportunity and therefore has a place in reduction and restraint of gun violence. However, to stop rampant mass murder, the many causes of gun violence must receive due attention. Peterson and Densley outline how individuals, institutions, and society can take preventive action.
 The actions and changes Peterson and Densley propose would also address the gun violence that injures and kills the most Americans. Intentional forms of gun violence are related to underlying societal conditions and sources. Although poorly understood today, they are now the subject of increasing investigation that has begun to influence public policy. The new federal legislation embodies and furthers this change. Consider its title—Bipartisan Safer Communities Act—in contrast to the last gun bill Congress adopted—Federal Assault Weapons Ban. This title reflects the recent emergence of numerous voluntary associations and professional organizations undertaking a common reset of the American gun debate.
 The problems to be solved, the questions to answered, and the actions to be taken are pivoting from access control to public health. This is because the dimensions, costs, and consequences of gun violence in America have reached epidemic levels. On this view, gun violence is not random. Like contagion, it is transmitted interpersonally through human networks conditioned by the social determinants of health. The risks, harms, and losses of guns are now part of this shared and socially constructed environment. They threaten the wellbeing of American society and its communities, as well as individuals and their relations. Grassroots associations like Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Sandy Hook Promise are providing thought leadership and advocacy for a citizenship of responsibility for the totality of gun violence.
 Established organizations like the American Public Health Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Medical Association as well as new initiatives like the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research and the Research Society for the Prevention of Firearm-Related Harms are joining the CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in addressing gun violence as a public health crisis. They are now undertaking a rigorous research-driven approach to understanding risk and protective factors of gun violence. The goal is new evidence-based norms, structures, and practices of reduction and restraint.
 These organizations generally agree that existing public health research can be applied to gun violence. The method of the American Public Health Association is representative: “(1) conducting surveillance to track gun-related deaths and injuries, gain insight into the causes of gun violence and assess the impact of interventions; (2) identifying risk factors associated with gun violence (e.g., poverty and depression) and resilience or protective factors that guard against gun violence (e.g., youth access to trusted adults); (3) developing, implementing, and evaluating interventions to reduce risk factors and build resilience; and (4) institutionalizing successful prevention strategies.”
 The public and private organizations now forming to prevent gun violence in America are many and bear promise to address yet another troubling disparity—the absence of research, both federally funded and private, commensurate with the risks and harms of guns. A 2017 study found that gun violence was the least researched cause of death in the U.S. and the second-least funded. Even though guns kill as many people as sepsis, funding for guns was 0.7 percent that of sepsis. Put differently, 63 research dollars per life lost went to gun deaths while 7000 went to sepsis.
 This disparity stems from the Dickey Amendment, which was attached to an omnibus federal spending bill in 1996 and backed by the NRA. This amendment sought to block the CDC from using funds for injury prevention and control to advocate or promote gun control. Similar legislation to fund NIH was passed in 2012. These bills effectively ended federally funded research until the Dickey Amendment was clarified by Congress in 2018. For twenty years, gun research decreased significantly (60% between 1998 and 2012 according to one study). The result was a critical lack of data and understanding just as death and injury were rising toward today’s record levels.
 This paucity of information and insight means limited evidence and knowledge to inform policy questions today. Currently, the RAND Corporation’s Gun Policy in America initiative seeks to identify the highest quality research to date and determine what policies can save lives today. So far, the findings are limited and largely inconclusive. There are today far more unanswered questions about guns than evidence-based answers. Looking forward, serious research funding has been approved by Congress since 2018. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will fund preventive initiatives that can be studied in years to come. Research is on the move. Still, as a recent Scientific American editorial observed, “the reality is that our fundamental understanding of gun violence fails to meet the moment.”
Affirming a new American peace project
 What can and should the ELCA say now to members and the public? For thirty years, the ELCA has held that Americans are failing to stop rampant gun violence. The church has joined a societal debate about justifiable and effective restrictions to ownership and use—and taken a strong stand. This debate has been largely defined by liberal individualism and constitutional entitlements that require minimal obligations to the interests and needs of others. In the case of gun ownership and use, persons are required to avoid harm or risk of harm to others. These obligations are interpersonal and not societal in scale and scope. Gun owners as such are not responsible for the risks or harms that guns play in the wellbeing or woe of American society. This responsibility falls upon the state through limits to the freedom of citizens intending harm or at high risk of harm to others or themselves.
 ELCA thought embraces access control from a different moral vision. Control exercises needed restraint for the good of the neighbor in a broken world. Still, it is but one element of a restorative project of active peacemaking. Because of the “gift of peace given the world in Jesus Christ,” Christians are “empowered to take up the challenge to prevent violence and to attack the complex causes that make violence so pervasive.”
 The social movements and political forces currently seeking to reset the American gun debate from access control to public health offer the ELCA an opportunity to reject a minimalist ethics of interpersonal harm and a failing politics of gun control. It can advocate a project of violence reduction for all Americans that widens personal and social responsibility to meet the need. Rigorous research and evidence-based policy and practice to prevent and reduce various harms will be essential. Without such critical knowledge, American society cannot build complex systems that enable people of diverse identities and circumstances to avoid and mitigate gun violence. This is what the ELCA can and should say now.
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