Kaelin Washington on her first day of school in Baltimore City, the same place where she almost lost her life to gun violence in March 2021. (Courtesy Photo)

By Mylika Scatliffe,
AFRO Women’s Health Writer,

Gun violence wasn’t something 33-year-old Jasmine Ramsey thought too much about–at least in terms of affecting her. 

On Feb. 27, 2021, that changed when her then 10-year-old daughter, Kaelin Washington, was shot in the chest while walking to her godmother’s house. She was simply leaving a neighborhood store in Baltimore when bullets ripped through her chest.

“I would have never thought in a million years something like this would happen,” said Ramsey. “Accidents, or falling down and getting hurt–sure– but getting shot?  My child? My 10-year-old?  Never. Now I’m constantly on guard.”

According to a poll completed last month by the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about one fifth of Americans say either themselves, a family member, or close friend has experienced gun violence in the past five years, and twice as many believe they are likely to become a victim of gun violence in the next five years.  The purpose of the study was to highlight Americans’ experiences, views, and concerns as they pertain to gun violence.

Before Nicole Harris-Crest’s father was shot to death during a robbery at a Baltimore bar and lounge in 2008, she prided herself on not being afraid to walk around the city.

“My father getting killed didn’t really make me afraid, it just made me realize that this kind of thing can happen to anyone. It’s just been in the last five years, with the dramatic increase in violent crime and shootings around Baltimore, particularly post-pandemic that I’ve felt differently,” said Harris-Crest. “I would actually be afraid to walk in some areas today, where I wasn’t scared before.  Now so many people have guns and are not afraid to use them. I also feel we have to worry more about mass shootings where there was not a particular concern before.”

Racial and ethnic disparities abound in practically all aspects of life, including gun violence. This poll revealed nothing different, noting that Black Americans are four times more and Hispanic Americans twice as likely to report a recent experience with gun violence when compared with White Americans.

Disparities and polarizing media portrayals aside, one main takeaway from the University of Chicago/AP-NORC poll is that a little over half of Americans “hold intersecting priorities, as they want to both prevent gun violence and protect gun rights. In particular, 52 percent say it is both very important to prevent mass shootings and very important to ensure people are able to own guns for personal protection.”

John Roman, a NORC senior fellow at the University of Chicago, discussed the motivation behind this most recent survey. “In March 2020, essentially with the beginning of the pandemic, we noticed a huge increase in the number of guns being purchased by Americans,” said Roman.  “Gun purchases almost tripled over the last 15 years.”

Gun violence is a dire problem in the United States according to three-fourths of the respondents in the poll, and 8 in 10 of them say it’s increasing.  

The survey did not specify what type of gun violence respondents believe they may experience in the future, so it was left open to individual interpretation. Any type of gun violence could be considered, including street crime, domestic violence, mass shootings, or even suicide, according to Roman.

“Street crime is and always has been a problem, but now I really worry about mass shootings,” said Harris-Crest. “I’m also concerned that the public has become desensitized to the tragedies that occur because of guns, because we see it so much.”

Even before her daughter was shot, Ramsey was appalled at how people seem to so easily turn to guns to settle disputes or enact revenge. “You watch the news every day and there is a just a run-down on who got shot!  Sometimes as early as 8:00 am,” said Ramsey.  “Who is waking up first thing in the morning with shooting someone on [their] mind?”

Ramsey’s daughter was shot when two young men became engaged in a violent altercation. When the shooting began, one of the bullets traveled three blocks, landing in the young girl’s chest. Both perpetrators were apprehended and convicted, with one of them even offering a tearful and sincere apology.

“The poll highlights that gun violence has touched the lives of many Americans, especially Black and Hispanic Americans. Despite the polarizing climate surrounding these issues, the poll also reveals strong public support for policies to prevent gun violence, which may help to foster increased consensus among policymakers to further act,” said Jens Ludwig, a professor at the Harris School of Public Policy.

Almost three fourths of Americans believe gun laws should be stricter, favoring policies banning certain types of guns with the most popular regulations being those that can place limits on who can buy guns in the first place.  This type of regulation is more favored than policies that ban certain types of firearms.

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