Beth Howard of Moms Demand Action Discusses Gun Safety & National Gun Violence Awareness Day
Written by Caleb Nelson on June 3, 2022
Beth Howard is the current Wyoming legislative lead for the state chapter of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement advocating for gun sense (sensible gun reform laws) in America.
Howard says she joined MDA after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, becoming involved in 2012. Howard explains she was “not an active member” until the Wyoming chapter launched about five years ago. Since then, she’s served the group in multiple roles and capacities.
Today, Howard notes, is “National Gun Violence Awareness Day,” which is an annual event that takes place on the first Friday in June. It is also the beginning of the “Wear Orange Weekend,” and as Howard explains, “Wear Orange is dedicated to honoring the lives of people in the United States affected by gun violence.” The weekend is also meant to “elevate the voices” of those who demand an end to gun violence.
“That is one of the primary goals of our organization, to demand an end to gun violence,” Howard says.
Wyoming is number one in the nation for suicide deaths per capita. Howard laments suicide rates in the state, saying, “it’s a horrible record to hold.” According to a statistical analysis from the Wyoming Injury & Violence Prevention Program and the Wyoming Department of Health, “firearms account for 64% of suicides across all age groups.”
Of course, suicide and gun violence are not synonymous terms. There is a fault line in the nation’s conversation about guns and it depends, partly, on the distinction between suicide and homicide. Based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were “39,707” gun deaths in 2019. About sixty percent of those deaths were suicides.
“Easy access to firearms – for everyone, for children, – is part of what contributes to that high suicide rate in Wyoming,” Howard says.
There are some who argue that the catch-all term “gun violence” is misleading and disingenuous. Suicide, while deeply tragic for families and communities, is a solitary act. Homicide is not. Advocating for gun safety and improved storage of firearms is distinct from proposals to limit or ban access to assault rifles (which are not aimed at preventing suicide).
In the aftermath of the shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Tulsa, President Biden is calling for a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines this week. Biden describes his proposed gun control as “rational, common-sense measures.”
In relation to National Gun Violence Awareness Day and Wear Orange Weekend, Howard declined to comment on President Biden’s proposed gun measures, saying, “I’m not here to discuss President Biden’s proposals.”
For Howard, an important step toward meaningful gun reform would be to include mental health information in the “National Instant Criminal Background Check System,” or NICS. There is no law in Wyoming that requires mental health information be reported to NICS.
In the absence of the NICS reporting in Wyoming, Howard says, “We’re not even keeping our citizens safe according to the federal guidelines.”