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  • Abby Leeper Gibson

Masks Won't Shield Us From Gun Violence: Examining Another Deadly Public Health Crisis


The last year has been an unstable one in many ways--a global pandemic, a national reckoning with racism and its presence in our nation’s systems, a fraught national election marred by a fever pitch of violent insurrection. But, amid the chaos, there was a silver lining: mass shootings in the United States dramatically decreased, according to a database managed by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.


A hot phrase in American society today is “build back better.” In many ways, we’ve been given an opportunity to start again--to try to build systems and communities that work for all of the people that reside there, and especially for those who have long been underserved. As we look at what “build back better” means to Colorado--and our country--we must incorporate sensible measures to protect our communities from gun violence. We need to view gun violence as a public health issue, not a political one.


In the era of COVID-19, Colorado’s leadership has weighed personal freedoms and public safety because of this public health catastrophe. But, for decades, we’ve grappled with another public health crisis: gun violence. As was considered in COVID-19 policy, our leaders and our communities need to ask the hard question: When does the safety of the collective outweigh one’s individual freedoms? Our government agencies and community leaders sought to find a way to balance economic stability with safety measures after public health officials pointed to best practices that could keep people safe, like mask-wearing and avoiding large gatherings. Leaders even found a way to create a system that could restrict and ease based on the needs of particular communities.


Why haven’t we found a balance between civil liberties and safety in terms of firearms use and access? This is a loaded question without one solution. Also, in case you are wondering, no, I don’t think slapping a “no concealed weapons” window placard on an elementary school front door is considered a thorough response to the crisis at hand. We’ve seen our government agencies prioritize the health and safety of our communities while considering economic development and community stakeholders. This approach needs to extend to gun control.


During a time of reckoning, when considering action (or inaction), it’s critical to have a space and mechanism in place to allow for two-way communication between leaders and communities--a place to discuss and create an understanding of what the action or regulation will mean, in practice, and avoid rhetoric often shaped by sensationalized cable news programs that are incentivized for having good ratings, not providing a valuable service. This conversation needs to start long before the wake of the next tragedy and needs to be an ongoing discussion.


Additionally, hardline political playbooks, and those special interest funders (you know the one), should be shown the door when it comes to serving communities with sensible safety solutions. After a tragic incident (pandemic, mass shooting, police-involved murder, etc.) we consistently have some leaders that merely pay lip service by offering their “thoughts and prayers” while others join a bandwagon by supporting policies that are too divisive and don’t have a real chance at passing. By working in these predictable silos, we lose sight of the heart of the issue--keeping our communities--our friends, neighbors, loved ones--safe. These are human beings killed, our neighbors’ families being destroyed and trauma being inflicted upon innocent lives who were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, living with a government that has failed them with its inaction. Not to mention, the mental health strain this trauma puts on our communities and the lack of access provided to residents is very real--but that’s a post for a different time.


Colorado is a diverse state that values personal liberties, as demonstrated in its social and civil policies--as well as its approach to the use of firearms. Without creating and using a two-way mechanism for communication between leaders and the community’s residents in which they serve, our state and local leaders will fail to enact sensible gun safety practices that keep our communities safe. Enacting policies without two-way communication will cause friction and frustration felt by both citizens who don’t feel like the proposed action (or inaction) meets their needs and by leaders who don’t understand why their policies (or lack thereof) aren’t supported.


Our state consists of urban communities and rural ones, conservative cities, liberal-leaning ones and everything in between. With Colorado’s composition, a one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to address the needs our residents and communities face. The needs of Craig differ from the needs of Denver. Certain solutions are undoubtedly relevant to Colorado communities at large. For example, there’s no evidence to support the necessity of a bump stock to protect yourself or your land and livelihood, and firearm access in this state, especially in regards to AR-15s, is problematic and, inevitably, deadly. Other solutions may be more impactful if strategically implemented to protect what puts vulnerable communities most at risk.


With an issue as contentious and heated as gun safety, there’s bound to be resistance regardless of what actions (or inactions) are taken. Giving residents a seat at the table may not lead to complete consensus, but it at least provides the opportunity to increase understanding between communities themselves and the people who lead them. I urge citizens to learn more about their state’s gun policies--and for leaders to pay attention to their needs and concerns when taking action.


To learn more about how you can support those impacted by the Boulder tragedy, please visit ColoradoHealingFund.org.

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