Wait! Before you get ticked-off and stop reading, I have a very simple math problem for you. Yes, it does involve a hot button issue: guns. But could we please suspend with the political posturing for just a moment, and steer clear of those water-muddying, sidestepping issues that, if you’ll pardon the pun, take us off target, and consider how a simple math equation might help us save lives . . . thousands of lives.
Last week I offered invocational remarks and prayer for a Community Solutions Forum at Tri-C in downtown Cleveland. The event, largely organized by City Councilman Zack Reed, both challenged and empowered participants to think of gun violence as a public health issue. If people were dying in our neighborhoods at the same rate and by any other means than gun violence – heroin or diabetes, for examples, we would take proactive measures to understand and treat the problem. Good stuff, right? But when you solve public health issues you have to, first, do the math by looking at numbers, what’s causing them and then find ways of reducing root causes.
Well consider the numbers surrounding gun violence in America for just for a moment: Citing the Centers for Disease Control, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence says that in “2010, guns took the lives of 31,076 Americans in homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings. This is the equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day and more than three deaths each hour.” And, according to recent articles, death by guns is about to surpass death by traffic accidents as a leading cause of death among our young people.
What we have in America is not a political issue, but quite simply, a math problem. Lots of people will try to steer the discussion off course or cloud matters with talk about mental illness or other sidebar issues. But they don’t add up. Ockham’s razor, lex parsimoniae, says that the solution with the fewest variables is usually the right one. Only when we subtract guns from the gun violence equation, do we phenomenally decrease the number of deaths by gun. It’s that simple.
Keep your guns unloaded and properly locked-up or, better yet, don’t own one at all and you will significantly reduce the number of suicides (62% of all deaths by gun in the U.S. according to CDC’s WISQARS™), homicides by gun (35%) and accidental deaths by gun (3800 between 2005-2010, of which, roughly a third were under the age of 25, and one tenth, over 300, were children).
And the really cool thing for right-brained thinkers like me is that the solution to ending gun violence is a simple math problem. No trig or calculus needed here: Death by gun – gun = fewer deaths. My colleague, Rev. Kris Eggert, the executive director of God Before Guns, met with me recently and said that this simple equation is “why death by gun has significantly decreased in countries like Australia and Canada where the people and their governments have passed legislation to limit certain types of guns and ease of access overall.” Rev. Kris and God Before Guns are part of a growing number of individuals and organizations that faithfully provide tools promoting gun safety, advocate on behalf of stricter legislation, and who bring a glimmer of hope to cities like Cleveland where the recent murders of young people in our city streets (one just a half-block from my front door) and children in their homes and even car seats have troubled even the most callous among us.
And this a math equation that will not only save lives, it will save money while increasing investment and development in our cities. My friend, Jeff Speck, is a renowned urban planner and author of the widely read book, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time. Jeff’s Ted Talk is nearing 1 million views (although I like to remind Jeff that his talk really got it’s start at the Old Stone Church’s Hope for the City program in 2013). A few nights back, over a great meal in downtown Cleveland, Jeff told me that the problem of gun violence contributes to an overall instability for walkable communities. If people don’t feel safe they won’t walk in their neighborhoods or on downtown streets.
From an economic and social point of view, guns on our streets add up to bad business for local economies and a decreasing sense of well being for people who want to live, work and play in their downtown communities. Just think about the negative on-line chatter in the comment section following an article about a shooting or murder in any downtown: “Stay out of downtown. It’s a death trap!” What restaurateur, retailer or downtown business owner wants to see that kind of press? If we want our local economies, and the people who sustain them, to thrive then we have to subtract guns and gun violence from the equation.
What if shootings became part of the Walk Score equation like other factors such as affordable housing and public parks, which rate a neighborhood’s walkability and, therefore, its desirability. I imagine places such as downtown Cleveland, which currently is defined as a “walker’s paradise” with a very high score of 94 out of 100, might be dramatically affected by the murder on Euclid Avenue two weeks ago and other shootings over recent weeks. But subtract the guns from the equation and walk score sum starts to climb again.
Yes, this is a hot-button issue. But one of the things that makes America great is our ability to come together and find solutions to some of our most challenging and divisive problems. We’ve got to get over the political posturing that divides us and find some common ground to solve this crisis which is killing us. I have friends from other countries who often ask, “America is such great nation; why are so many people shooting each other?” My new response: “Because we’re not very good at math.”