Op-Ed

Baseball and gun violence: Two of America's national pastimes collide in Virginia

The annual congressional baseball game dates back to 1909 and is now one of the only public displays of bipartisanship left in Washington, D.C. The game, which pits Republicans against Democrats, mirrors similar events that dominate American culture every summer — including Little League competitions, corporate charity events and Major League series. Baseball is, after all, our national pastime.

And gun violence is our national shame, as American as apple pie and, yes, baseball.

The Wednesday attack on the Republican team’s final practice before the game by a shooter reportedly armed with an assault rifle was a chilling reminder of the 2011 attempt on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ life, which left six dead and 13 wounded. It raises serious concerns about ensuring the security of our elected officials and their staff.

For many parents, such concerns are a part of everyday life. In communities across the country, parents cannot safely send their children to school, to parks or to baseball practice for fear of gunfire.

Last week, shots were fired near a baseball field in Chicago where the Loyola Park Dodgers youth baseball team was playing, causing panicked parents and coaches to frantically move the children into the field house. In May, a shooting at Davenport Park in Akron, Ohio, during a basketball game led parents to chip in to pay for an off-duty police officer to provide security at future games. Last November, two people were killed and four injured in a shooting during the annual “Juice Bowl” youth football game at Shawnee Park in Louisville, Ky. And 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was killed in a Chicago park just a week after performing at President Obama’s inauguration in January 2013.

So far this year, there have been more than 27,800 shootings that have taken the lives of more than 6,800 people and injured an additional 13,500. To say that the United States lags behind other peer nations on this measure is a gross understatement. The gun fatality rate in the U.S. is 25 times higher than other high-income nations. For young victims ages 15 to 24, the rate is 49 times higher. Women in this country are 11 times more likely to be killed with a gun than their international peers.

The burden of this violence does not fall equally among all communities. While African Americans make up only 14% of the U.S. population, they account for 56% of gun fatality victims. Nearly 50% of gun shooting victims are between the ages of 15 and 29, and gun violence has taken over the top spot as the leading cause of death for young people in the U.S.

While the epidemic of gun violence in this country and the maddening politics around the issue can make this feel like an intractable problem, nothing could be further from the truth. There is a growing body of research showing that states that have enacted common sense measures — such as universal background checks, limits on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and restricting gun access by domestic abusers — have significantly lower rates of gun violence than permissive states.

A Center for American Progress study released in October found that the 10 states with the weakest gun laws collectively have an aggregate level of gun violence that is three times higher than the 10 states with the strongest gun laws. Other research from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that when Missouri eliminated a requirement that individuals obtain a permit before purchasing a handgun, gun-related deaths in the state increased 26%. And when Connecticut enacted this same requirement, gun deaths fell 40%.

State legislatures around the country have finally begun to heed the call of a majority of Americans to do something to address this public health crisis of gun violence. Since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012, seven states have strengthened their laws regarding background checks for gun sales, five have legislated to restrict access to assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and 20 have enacted new laws to ensure that domestic abusers do not have easy access to guns. New polling shows that public support is higher than ever for measures like these.

In addition to high levels of support for policies like universal background checks — support that is shared among Republicans and Democrats, gun owners and non-gun owners — a new poll conducted by Penn Schoen Berland found that 54% of voters feel there should be fewer guns in circulation in America’s neighborhoods.

Since the start of this baseball season, approximately 3,120 people have been killed with guns in this country — more than four times as many people as the active Major League Baseball roster. Perhaps, at long last, the bipartisan spirit of baseball that imbues the annual congressional game will stay with the members as they return to Capitol Hill, and they will finally take action to address this epidemic nationwide.

Chelsea Parsons is vice president of guns and crime policy at the Center for American Progress.

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