Generally I prefer not to comment on “news”, and I will continue that trend here. But we all know gun violence in the US is bad, right? You don’t need to pay attention to the news to know that! You can just read Wikipedia. (And I’m being lazy in my research to demonstrate just how easy it is to find this stuff.)
In 2013, there were 73,505 nonfatal firearm injuries (23.2 injuries per 100,000 persons), and 33,636 deaths due to “injury by firearms” (10.6 deaths per 100,000 persons). These deaths included 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides, 505 deaths due to accidental or negligent discharge of a firearm, and 281 deaths due to firearms use with “undetermined intent”.
This is vastly higher than it is in other wealthy countries, and it’s only gotten higher in recent years. I used to think that the death rate by guns must be dwarfed by that of car crashes, but no, it’s actually quite comparable (although with a lower injury rate):
In 2010, there were an estimated 5,419,000 crashes, 30,296 deadly, killing 32,999, and injuring 2,239,000.
Here’s what’s not comparable: number of deaths by mass shootings. If you only pay attention to mass shootings in the news, this will vastly underestimate gun violence in the US.
Mass shooting statistics are tricky, because there’s no consensus criterion to distinguish mass shootings from other shootings. Mother Jones compiled a list of mass shootings, and counted 80 deaths in 2018. Wikipedia has a more expansive definition that counts 387 deaths in the same year. Either way, this is like one percent or less of the total gun deaths in a typical year. And the sensitivity to definition suggests that most deaths from mass shootings arise from incidents that just barely count as such. It’s not mass shootings that are the problem, it’s the broader category of gun violence.
On social media, there has been a lot of demand to describe mass shootings as White terrorism. I don’t disagree. But “terrorism” means a lot of things to different people, and I’m not entirely sure which points people are ultimately trying to make. Are they saying that, because mass shootings are terrorism, we ought to take them more seriously? Are they saying that White supremacists are complicit in the shootings even if they weren’t directly involved?
In describing mass shootings as terrorism, there is another unintended point being made. You know, in my recollection of the Bush era, terrorism wasn’t a huge danger. Terrorism was greatly exaggerated, a political boogeyman that motivated airport security theater, and the Iraq war.
Terrorists kill relatively few people! Terrorists usually don’t have the power to kill very many people, so instead they kill a relatively small number of people in a very dramatic way, in order to draw attention and influence the political conversation. Mass shootings are the precisely the same. Although many people can die in a single incident, the deaths from mass shootings are dwarfed by deaths from other gun violence.
And what can we do about it? We can’t not respond to mass shootings. That political conversation is going to happen whether we like it or not. Gun violence is a big problem, and so is white supremacy, so it’s only right to direct the conversation around mass shootings towards fighting those broader problems. What’s not right, is advocating “solutions” that address mass shootings exclusively.