Every Day, 100 Americans are Killed with Guns
Violence Must be Prevented by Design
William Toohey III (MAUD ‘20)
Average Annual Gun Deaths: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017. While it is broadly considered to be the most comprehensive firearm fatal injury source, two of the intent categories – Shootings by law enforcement and Unintentional Deaths – are estimated to be greatly underreported. This underreporting is largely due to missing information on death certificates, which may result in misclassification of intent. Multiple media sources and nonprofit groups have tracked shootings by law enforcement, but no reliable public database captures unintentional shootings. Intent category averages may not total to yearly average due to rounding. See also: Fatal Force. The Washington Post. Fatal Force. Data reflects a 4-year average (2015 to 2018) of deaths attributed to police shootings. https://wapo.st/2QlEZOo. Bing Map of Lincoln Memorial, Washington D.C. Gun deaths data and map combined by author, 13 April 2019.
“Every day, 100 Americans are killed with guns.”1 This reality (excluding war-related deaths) is emphasized on the home page of https://everytownresearch.org/, supported by a February research report published by the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund—a “non-partisan 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence in America.”2 Unfortunately, the nation faces relentless cycles of gun violence that persist in a variety of contexts. Lethal forces impact a wide range of demographics and environments, from distressed urban areas to white-picketed, suburban cul-de-sacs, all the way to quiet pastures in rural America. Across this diverse terrain, gun violence takes many forms, including suicides, homicides, domestic violence, and unintentional shootings. Research on gun-related incidents also categorizes the violence via hate crimes, mass shootings, the cost of gun violence, and the effect it has on children and teens.3 But one peculiar dimension to all of the violence is how quickly tragedies and their crime scenes rapidly appear and disappear across a spectrum of privacy: from public places (e.g. on the street or even the lobby of a VA outpatient clinic4) to intimate spaces (e.g. one’s own bedroom). These are the places we live, learn, heal, play, work, shop, and most importantly, share with fellow humans. In the middle of the street, at the end of a dirt road, or suppressed behind the confines of emotionless walls and windows, these are the same sites we claim as our laboratories for design intervention. The sites for our projects, maybe “the project” (our school’s aspirations), are permanently marked in time and space by residual histories and inevitable near futures of fear, pain, trauma, and vulnerability, all incited by violence. These phenomena are influenced and reinforced by the built world around us, the systems that arrange us, the imagined realities we dare dream up, and the people we hope remain distant or close to us.
As aspiring visionaries, we have a responsibility to draw on seminal research from the fields of sociology and psychology to improve our understanding of how the decisions we make about the built environment affect people, directly and indirectly. The role we play and the work we produce can either positively or negatively affect a variety of people, with various needs, in various ways, in various contexts. For too long, our professions have been preoccupied with an obsession to influence the built environment and prescribe how to use it, but not equally obsessed with understanding how the built environment influences human behavior. If there is a national desire to reduce the number of Americans killed with guns every day, the challenge for planning and design is to help identify and dismantle anything that contributes to producing conditions that drive people to pull the trigger. How do we productively navigate through the terrain of distressed urban areas? How do we reconsider the single-family, suburban home? What are the relationships between buildings and mental health? Is it useful for architects to consider how and when domestic space turns violent? Why are there such stark disparities between buildings and the realities that unfold inside or around them? How do we expose these realities to help inform how we reshape the environment? As we approach twenty years after Columbine (20 April 1999), how do we think about designing public schools that support safety measures to account for every child and teacher inside? How do designers respond to data that reveals increasing risks of violence in the places we wish to learn, teach, and work?5 Society cannot afford to ignore the consistent cycles of violence that collide with our minds, bodies, and built environment—impact that is temporarily explosive but permanently corrosive.
It would be productive to talk more about improving connections between the physical and psychological—the physical and physiological. At this point, it is a waste of time and energy to focus too much on form-driven fantasies; rather, planning and design need to respond more effectively and efficiently to society’s increasing complexity. Today, it would be more beneficial to focus efforts on simultaneously engaging the social, cultural, psychological, political, economic, environmental, and technological dimensions connected to our work. Only then does the work of architects, urban designers, planners, and related professionals become meaningful and worth celebrating. Ultimately, an open and reflexive mindset toward shaping the world around us makes a national public health issue like 100 Americans being killed by guns every day easier to grasp. It is imperative that more planning and design collaborators—acutely aware of complex issues sweeping nations—are convinced that they play an important role in helping untangle our tangled world, collectively. We must embrace this complexity and responsibility of improved understanding. And if public or private entities need data-driven research reports to unlock capital for urgent innovation, let’s just make them.
For more information to improve understanding, consider how to act (individually or collectively), or join the conversation about reducing gun violence in America, please visit https://everytownresearch.org/. To read Everytown’s full research report, visit https://everytownresearch.org/reports/nationofsurvivors/.
 “A Nation of Survivors: The Toll of Gun Violence in America,” 1 February 2019, Everytown for Gun Safety, accessed 6 April 2019, https://everytownresearch.org/reports/nationofsurvivors/.
3 “Firearms are the second leading cause of death for children and teens and the first leading cause of death for black children and teens in the U.S. Every year, nearly 3,000 children and teens are shot and killed and approximately 15,600 are shot and injured. In an average year, over 10,300 violent hate crimes involve a gun – more than 28 each day. The vast majority of hate crimes are directed against communities of color, religious minorities, and LGBTQ people. The various costs paid by victims, communities, businesses, taxpayers, and every American who feels the pain, fear, and distress from the increasing frequency of gun violence amount to tens of billions annually and impact people in every community across the country.” Executive Summary, 1 February 2019, Everytown for Gun Safety, accessed 6 April 2019, https://everytownresearch.org/reports/nationofsurvivors/.
4 “A veteran reportedly shot himself April 9 in the waiting room of the VA's Austin Outpatient Clinic in front of hundreds of witnesses. (Veterans Affairs),” J.D. Simkins, “Hundreds witness veteran shoot and kill himself in VA waiting room,” Military Times, 12 April 2019, accessed 13 April 2019, https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2019/04/11/hundreds-witness-veteran-shoot-and-kill-himself-in-va-waiting-room/?fbclid=IwAR1MBUktFeb5-NcP28GFgqZ8324_a9s3nxN8fdtNBUuFb2_oqvNzomttvkc.
5 “Twenty years after Columbine, Colorado schools are assessing an astonishing number of student threats,” The Colorado Sun, 10 April 2019, accessed 11 April 2019, https://coloradosun.com/2019/04/10/colorado-school-threat-assessments/.