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Gun violence in America: Defining the problem


(NEW YORK) — It was lunchtime when a gun altered Crystal Turner’s life.

“I got the call at 12, noon,” Turner recalled to ABC News. “My 29-year-old daughter Jenea and my 23-year-old son Donell were murdered together.”

Jenea Harvison and her brother, Donell McDonald, were gunned down in Columbus, Ohio, by Harvison’s estranged husband, Roy Harvison, who is now serving a life sentence for aggravated murder.

“We know there are millions of other families now who have similar stories and similar experiences,” Turner said.

Jeannie She’s family is one of them. Her father survived the 2019 mass shooting at the Virginia Beach municipal building at left 12 dead.

“Even now it feels completely surreal for something so severe to hit so close to home,” She told ABC News. “On the other hand, I’m fully aware of the pain that so many families experienced that night. This trauma sticks with people forever.”

DeAndra Dycus understands. Dycus’ son, Dre Knox, was struck by a stray bullet in Indianapolis.

“He was 13 years old. Some young men started shooting outside the home and struck my son in the back of the head. A stray bullet flew through a window and left Dre as a non-verbal quadriplegic,” Dycus said.

Dre lived but, as his mom said, his life was taken.

“We have to bathe him. We have to dress him. We have to lift him out of bed to put him in his wheelchair. We have to change diapers,” Dycus told ABC News. “I have lost who Dre was and who we hoped he was going to be.”

As the country tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, with its unfair burdens and incomprehensible death toll, it is sickened anew by gun violence, with its unfair burdens and ever-growing death toll.

Between 2014 and 2019, an average of 38,826 Americans were killed by guns annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 23,437 — or 60% — were suicides.

Of late, police say, the increase in shootings is mainly due to urban gangs, but there are also variants, involving mass shootings, domestic violence and suicide. Much of it, experts say, is exacerbated by the health and economic strains wrought by COVID-19 and powered by the uniquely American affinity for and access to guns.

“You can’t shoot somebody without a gun,” said New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. “Identifying who’s carrying guns, the cops going out there and making the arrests, taking the guns off the street is great. Really what we need is the individual carrying the gun off the street.”

In Shea’s New York City, there was a 100% increase in shootings in 2020 from the year prior. Accidental shootings, domestic violence, suicide, stray bullets and mass casualty all contributed to it, but Shea said the biggest drivers of gun violence are gangs.

“Domestic, road rage, we certainly have seen those incidents. Accidental shootings, playing with a gun, and a friend shoots a friend, we’ve seen all of it with a little more frequency. But if you step back and look at the big picture, that is such a small percentage of what we see regarding gun violence,” Shea told ABC News.

“The vast majority of what we see is still gang-related,” Shea added. “It could be over turf, it could be over drug money. Oftentimes, tragically, it’s over nothing.”

There is no official count of how many Americans own guns but there are an estimated 400 million guns in the United States, the most heavily armed nation in the world. In the last quarter-century the Supreme Court has taken a broad view of the Second Amendment, which enshrines the right to bear arms.

“I certainly don’t think it was inevitable to the founders that this is where we would be, because the Second Amendment was not intended at the time to mean that people could use guns to commit acts of violence that was not in self-defense,” said Mary McCord, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law.

Until the Supreme Court’s Heller decision in 2008 permitted near-universal gun ownership for self-defense, McCord said the Second Amendment had been interpreted only to allow people to bear arms as part of a government-regulated, politically accountable militia.

“Even in that massive change to the way we understand the Second Amendment did the Supreme Court suggest that there was a right to bear arms to commit acts of violence, that there was a right for anyone to have a firearm for any purpose whatsoever,” she said.

This story is part of the series “Gun Violence in America” by ABC News Radio. Each day this week we’re exploring a different topic, from what we mean when we say “gun violence” — it’s not just mass shootings — to what can be done about it. You can hear an extended version of each report as an episode of the ABC News Radio Specials podcast. Subscribe and listen on any of the following podcast apps:

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