The recent tragic mass shooting in Lewistown, Maine, once again focused the nation’s attention on the growing menace of guns and firearms in the United States. Planned long before the shooting, about three dozen social work researchers, scholars, and practitioners gathered at the Crown School of Social Work at the University of Chicago on Friday and Saturday, November 3rd and 4th, for a Summit on Social Work’s Role in Gun Violence Prevention as a precursor for the launch of the 14th Grand Challenge for Social Work network that will focus on preventing and reducing gun violence. The event was sponsored by The Silver School of Social Work at New York University and the University of Buffalo School of Social Work, in addition to the Crown School.
Crown School Dean Deborah Gorman-Smith was on hand to welcome attendees and served as chief host along with Catherine Sanders, the Crown School’s Chief of Staff, who assisted with the coordination of the event. Neil Guterman, professor and dean emeritus at the NYU Silver School, was a primary organizer, as was Patricia Logan-Green, an associate professor and associate dean at the University of Buffalo School of Social Work. Dr. Guterman is also a former dean of the Crown School. NYU Silver School Dean Michael Lindsey set the tone for the conference by sharing a compelling story of personal tragedy with gun violence.
Mass shootings are defined as incidents where four or more people are killed or injured. According to Gun Violence Archive, the mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, was the 565th such event in the United States in 2023, putting the nation on course to exceed the 690 mass shootings in 2021, nearly two a day. There were 647 mass shootings in 2022. Gun Violence Archive began collecting data in 2014, when there were 273 mass shootings. Mass shootings are but one aspect of gun and firearm violence.
According to statistics from Brady United, 117,345 people are shot each year in the United States. That is 327 people each day, and 117 people die from their wounds. 210 survive. Of the 42,654 people who die each year, 16,651 are murdered, and 24,569 commit suicide. Each year, 547 women are killed by their husbands or male dating partners. Every year, 7,957 teenagers and children are shot in the U.S. Of those, 1,130 are murdered, 6,294 survive their gunshot wounds, and 732 die from gun suicide.
Gun safety advocates will be holding our collective breaths today when the Supreme Court takes up the case United States v. Rahimi, deciding whether individuals with protective orders for intimate partners can be denied the right to own a gun or firearm. The Fifth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals declared the ban unconstitutional because there was no comparable restriction when the Second Amendment was enacted. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, on average, 70 women are killed by an intimate partner each month, two-thirds with a gun or firearm.
The Supreme Court opened the floodgates to gun ownership with its 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Constitution guaranteed individuals the right to own firearms. It further expanded access to gun ownership with its 2022 ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen by striking down New York’s restrictions on the right to carry concealed weapons. The Court ruled requiring an individual to show a special need to carry a concealed weapon violated the 14th Amendment. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a concurring opinion asserting that the effect of guns on American society was irrelevant to the issue.
The originalist perspective of the conservative majority on the Supreme Court today—that only laws that existed at the time of the adoption of the Constitution are legitimate—will have a profound impact on today’s society. Summit proceedings are being compiled and will be shared in the coming weeks. The social work profession must not only address these challenges through science and research but also must increase its engagement with the political arena if we are to have an impact on policy and legislation. Much is at stake in the coming years.