05/08/2013 04:53 pm ET Updated Jul 08, 2013

Getting Real About Gun Violence

The debate in America has shifted from gun control versus gun rights to the larger issue of preventing gun violence. Whether gun control advocates like it or not, the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to bear arms, with certain restrictions. And whether gun rights advocates like it or not, society is moving in the direction of more restrictions on sales of guns and the types of weapons that can be sold and possessed.

But as a number of commentators have pointed out, the pro-gun vs. anti-gun debate does not address the realities of gun violence in America and the most critical issues in preventing it. For example, David M. Kennedy, director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Justice, points out in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that the vast majority of gun crimes and violence involve everyday handguns, which would not be affected by any of the current gun control proposals.

Furthermore, Kennedy argues that gun violence is concentrated in mostly poor and minority neighborhoods, and is driven by a tiny number of people -- about 5 percent of the young men in the most dangerous neighborhoods. Citing initiatives like Operation Ceasefire in Boston, Kennedy believes it is possible to identify these "hot" groups and individuals, and then intervene with a variety of law enforcement and social service measures. The Boston effort cut youth homicide by two-thirds and all homicide by one-half.

Another important factor in gun violence is understanding the risks of gun ownership, particularly of handguns. Virtually all significant studies conclude that having a gun in the home -- especially a handgun -- greatly increases the risk of accidental or intentional death or injury to family members or other innocents. While some gun owners argue that they need guns for self-defense, the statistics show that for every self-defense homicide in American homes, there are 1.3 accidental deaths, 4.6 criminal homicides and 37 suicides. In other words, a gun in the home is much more likely to accidentally kill, to murder or to be used in a suicide than in self-defense.

The NRA and other gun rights groups argue that they are strong advocates of gun training and safety. If that is true, then they should partner with other groups -- private and governmental -- to promote the safe use of guns, as well to educate the public on the risks of gun ownership. There is no way that we as a society can legislate sensible behavior around gun ownership, which is protected by our Constitution. People must take individual responsibility in the ownership and use of firearms. However, as an effort to prevent the tragedy of gun violence, there should be much greater resources devoted to educating Americans about the risks of gun ownership and the realities of gun violence.