How much longer do you want to live? I ask this of my students to make a point about longevity. While age at death is meaningful, many also emphasize quality of life. “So long as I feel well and I’m able to engage in meaningful activities” is a common response.

APTOPIX California Shooting

Women pause at a memorial at a vigil honoring the victims of a shooting at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., on Monday. A gunman killed multiple people late Saturday amid Lunar New Year celebrations. Ashley Landis/Associated Press

Another question is “How do you want to die?” This elicits responses about a “good death” (i.e., without extreme pain, surrounded by loved ones, at peace with my god, etc.). I have never heard anyone say, “I’d like to die by bullet.” I wonder why.

After all, dying by bullet is increasingly the norm in the United States. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t hear about a shooting death on the evening news. The truth is that over 100 people die by bullets daily in this country. Ten died in this way recently at a community celebration in California.

Perhaps a few might think this OK, but I certainly don’t, and I imagine most people would agree with me. Dying by bullet involves at least one other person (i.e., a shooter), like dying in a car crash (i.e., another driver). Improvements in vehicle technology and infrastructure have cut crash death rates in half since the 1950s. The opposite pattern is true for deaths by bullet: The rate of gun deaths increased by 33% between 2011 and 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Is it time we prioritized research and policy decisions to reduce bullet-related death rates as we have done with vehicle crash rates?

Tom Meuser

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