By Sonali Rajan
Perspective is a powerful thing.
As a research scientist, I feel obliged to inform politically and ideologically charged conversations with facts. As a human being, I need to listen to others, without making a priori assumptions about how our interpretation of facts intertwines with our lived experiences.
No issue better illustrates this dual challenge than gun violence, an American health epidemic.
Fact: More than 100,000 people are shot annually, and nearly 40,000 die — including thousands of children. Yet at a recent panel discussion, a Fox News commentator I sat next to reiterated the National Rifle Association’s argument that, since 1999, gun deaths have decreased as gun ownership has increased.
That’s true only if you don’t include suicides, a growing crisis. But our discussion underscored that everyone (myself included) should be specific in presenting facts.
A responsible conversation airs facts that affect people’s lives. In his book, Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, Jonathan Metzl notes that America’s gun death victims are primarily white men, most killed by self-inflicted wounds. Yet white men often oppose gun control, Metzl argues, believing guns protect their status in the racial hierarchy.
Similarly, youth exposure to gun violence is not typically classified as an adverse childhood experience. Thus, as my colleagues and I recently reported, children traumatized due to gun violence are often not linked to essential services any parent would want for them.
These facts should inform conversations about gun violence, but our assumptions get in the way. The Fox News commentator likely assumed I’ve never met a gun owner (wrong: I have close family members who are). And I was guilty of similar assumptions about him. Still, our conversation was more civil than I expected.
As challenging conversations continue — Should teachers carry guns in schools? Are active shooter drills effective? — let’s arm ourselves with facts, not assumptions.