Subscribe for 99¢
Pennsylvania Daily Life

Some of the 660 American flags on display are seen by the banner on the church lawn of St. Peter's Reformed Church Aug. 30 in Zelienople, Pa. A church spokesperson said they put the flags and banner up on Thursday for the Labor Day weekend to illustrate the number of veterans that commit suicide a year. 

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

In the last decade, gun violence and gun-related deaths have increased exponentially nationwide, estimated as high as 40,000 annually. This past summer, our state witnessed gun-related killings, including a wave of gun violence across the St. Louis and Metro East area that resulted in 17 children falling victim.

It is not just mass shootings, however, that have so many people alarmed when it comes to the current national debate unfolding with respect to gun violence in America. The increase in suicides by guns, particularly from those who have served our nation in uniform, requires a response. According to the latest statistics, roughly 20 veterans a day are committing suicide by firearm. I’m not the only veteran calling for answers.

Some lawmakers and political candidates have suggested imposing major gun restrictions, with former congressman and now presidential contender Beto O’Rourke, for example, arguing for a mandatory government buyback program for all high-capacity rifles. Such calls are not to be taken lightly, as Americans own 40% of the world’s privately owned firearms.

Many people, however, have called for a different approach — a smart, targeted one that focuses instead on finding the main source of why gun violence occurs in the first place, and then addressing that.

Currently, it appears we do not have the necessary information or data to understand how we should tackle gun violence due to a lack of federal funding for research. We don’t know with sufficient confidence if additional pieces of legislation or making investments in the mental health space are the keys to putting an end to these senseless tragedies. What we do know is that we still need to learn more about this issue. And to achieve the correct answers, we must invest in long-term, data-driven research.

The increase in veteran suicides and mass shootings, along with the recent upswing in gun violence in our state, have resulted in members of the veteran community as well as law enforcement leaders publicly calling on our elected officials to support funding for this research. We need to find out what is at the root of gun violence so we can address it at the source.

We are fortunate to have policymakers in our state who are torn by conflicting opinions, but who still fight for and care deeply about our veterans and take this matter seriously. Given that funding for gun research has received bipartisan support from both sides of the political aisle, it is essential that our elected representatives work together to support gun-violence research that will lead us to a long term solution.

Many policymakers in Washington are already taking the lead on this issue. In fact, the House of Representatives has appropriated $50 million to research gun violence at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the Senate, Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia has proposed spending $75 million a year researching gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control.

Given what we have gone through together, no one needs to tell the people of this state that gun violence is a serious crisis. When it comes to this important issue, citizens across Missouri demand and deserve results, and engagement with the scientific research community will help lead to solutions. There must be a commitment to work together, because that’s the clearest way to prevent future unnecessary deaths from gun violence.

Joseph Whit McCoskrie is a retired lieutenant colonel and former assistant professor of military science at the University of Missouri.