WELLFLEET — The killing of 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, just 10 days after the grocery store massacre in a Black neighborhood of Buffalo, evoked the arguments activists have been making since the murder of 13 people at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. in 1999.
But behind these heartbreaking events, there is the less reported reality of how people usually die by gun violence. In 2020, suicide accounted for 54 percent of all gun deaths in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center.
Overall in that year, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S., according to the CDC. Just over one percent of them died in mass shootings.
“We have a whole campaign about suicide, along with other preventable and predictable tragedies including killings of and by teenagers and domestic violence,” said Donna Wald, president of Cape Cod Grandmothers Against Gun Violence.
Wald’s organization focuses on improper gun storage, because even in Massachusetts, with some of the strictest gun laws in the country, guns are ubiquitous and often unsecured. Two local residents were charged with violating gun storage laws last week.
Locking up guns is key to preventing children and thieves from getting them. But laws only go so far. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence cites a study that found more than half of all gun owners stored at least one gun unsafely in 2016.
Guns make bad situations worse, said Wald; for example, 90 percent of suicide attempts are fatal if made with a gun. This matters because most suicide survivors are grateful that they lived, Wald said. The Harvard School of Public Health found that those who died by suicide were twice as likely to have a gun at home than those who did not.
Similarly, victims of domestic abuse are in greater peril with guns around. Women living in a house with firearms are five times more likely to die by homicide, Wald said. Two-thirds of women killed by an intimate partner are killed with a gun, according to Everytown.org.
What You Can Do
Kathleen Glueck of Mashpee joined Grandmothers Against Gun Violence after her grandson survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December 2012.
“My grandson was in fourth grade, in music class” when Adam Lanza, 20, began his rampage, she said. “He heard everything — the teachers pleading for the lives of their students, the screaming of the children. The music teacher saved their lives by putting them in instrument cabinets. They were in there for an hour.”
When a teacher offered lollipops to help the kids stay calm as they hid, her grandson refused. “He told me a week later, ‘Grandma, I did not want to take the lollipop because I was afraid he would hear me licking it.’ ”
Glueck said her three children, their spouses, and all eight of her grandchildren have PTSD because of what happened to that child, who is now a freshman in college.
What followed in Newtown — parents divorcing, falling into severe depression, developing phobias, and at least one suicide — was completely predictable, she said.
Gun violence “is a national disgrace,” said Glueck. “We know that things can be done and there are not the backbones to do anything about it. We are sacrificing our children on the altar of gun obsession.”
Wald said the public should not keep waiting for another watershed event like Uvalde or Buffalo. There are no watersheds anymore, and “we cannot wait for the cavalry because the cavalry is not going to come,” she said. “We have to write and call our legislators and join groups to learn how to be effective. Women’s rights and civil rights progressed over time; they were not immediate. We need to put the pedal to the metal on this.”
About 89 percent of Americans favor preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns, and nearly as many favor requiring background checks for private gun sales and barring gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists. Two-thirds strongly back all of these policies, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Where are their voices?” Wald asked.
The Grandmothers hold rallies on the 14th day of every month — except January, February, and March — at the Airport Rotary in Hyannis. They have done this for the last eight years. The next is Tuesday, June 14 at 11:30 a.m. The group holds monthly meetings in person or by Zoom.
On June 4, Grandmothers Against Gun Violence will hold a bake sale at the Dennis Village bandstand on Route 6A from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.