Mass shootings? Just another day in America


The recent spate of mass shootings has been shocking no doubt but the sad reality is that this is just another day in America. The focus on mass shootings to some extent hides the fact that daily gun violence has become endemic and routine. As Lois Beckett writes for ProPublica, the definition of mass shootings as only those that involve four or more people killed may obscure the real picture, and the definition should be expanded to include four or more people shot, though even that does not capture the full reality of gun violence.

The Reddit project’s organizers suggest this broader approach does a better job of capturing the burden of gun violence–including the suffering and costs of treating people who are shot and survive.

“The most obscene incidents of gun violence usually do not make the mainstream news at all,” the project’s introduction says, citing a nightclub shooting in Tennessee in which 18 people were shot and only one person killed. “We believe the media does a disservice to mass shooting victims by virtually ignoring them unless large numbers are killed.”

Yet bundling together all incidents in which four people or more people are shot doesn’t capture the bigger picture.

As ProPublica detailed last week, gun murder in America is largely a story of race and geography. Half of all gun murder victims are black men. The gun murder rate for black Americans is dramatically higher than it is for white Americans. And the burden of violence tends to be concentrated in certain neighborhoods of certain cities.

Increasingly voices are saying that it does not have to be this bad. Criminologist Frederic Lemieux lists six things we need to bear in mind about shootings.

  1. More guns don’t make you safer. The US alone had 68% of the total number of mass shooting of 24 industrialized countries, despite being the most heavily armed.
  2. Mass shootings in the US are getting more frequent.
  3. It is misleading to automatically all classify mass shootings as terrorism, domestic or otherwise.
  4. Restricting sales works and countries with more restrictive gun licensing laws show fewer deaths by firearms and a lower gun ownership rate.
  5. Historical comparisons may be flawed since definitions of what constitutes mass shootings have changed.
  6. Background checks work.

The last one is perhaps the most important.

In most restrictive background checks performed in developed countries, citizens are required to train for gun handling, obtain a license for hunting or provide proof of membership to a shooting range.

Individuals must prove that they do not belong to any “prohibited group,” such as the mentally ill, criminals, children or those at high risk of committing violent crime, such as individuals with a police record of threatening the life of another.

Here’s the bottom line. With these provisions, most US active shooters would have been denied the purchase of a firearm. [My emphasis-MS]

Larry Wilmore also discusses the latest shooting and uses a roller-coaster metaphor to describe the repeated wrenching emotional ride that ensues.

(This clip aired on December 3, 2015. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)

Comments

  1. says

    For the comparison with other countries, it is not only laws that are different. E.g. in Europe, we do not have that fascination with guns.

    I remember a talk about “freedoms” at a Free Software conference in Germany held by a self-proclaimed gun nut from the US. When he talked about how great the right to bear arms is, he obviously wanted to rile us up and get a controversy going. But we simply were not interested.

  2. kyoseki says

    Self defense is not considered a valid reason for firearms ownership in pretty much any other country, whereas in the US it’s a guaranteed Constitutional right, which changes how gun ownership gets regulated.

    Probably the most important thing to note about gun ownership in other countries is that it’s only valid for recreation or hunting, consequently it’s regulated as such. One other thing of note is you can generally buy AR-15s or similar in these countries, but they regulate the ever living shit out of handguns, which are primarily used for making people miserable, you don’t hunt with them – and in an active shooter situation, handguns are no less effective than assault weapons – the worst mass shooting in the US, Virginia Tech, was carried out with 2 handguns.

    It is also worth noting that California already has all of the recently proposed laws (assault weapons ban, universal background checks, waiting periods) and that the shooters in San Bernardino broke no law pretty much until they started shooting people – the guns were purchased legally in California, they were, however, modified to an illegal specification before the shooting.

    A lot of these guys actually plan their attacks well in advance, as these guys did, which is why they had high capacity magazines from Nevada and had made numerous pipe bombs – the worst guys out there are the ones who plan their attacks out well in advance, they don’ t just go nuts with whatever they have to hand, so any regulations need to bear this in mind.

    The worst mass shooting in recent history in the west was (I think) the Norwegian attacks, where the shooter underwent all of the background checks & club membership stuff in order to acquire his weapons, he also spent a great deal of time figuring out how to build a fertilizer bomb out of low grade anfo – the really deranged fuckers out there are very methodical and patient, so it’s very difficult to prevent them from exploiting the rules. It’s also worth noting that the gun used in the Utoya massacre was explicitly protected by Sen. Feinstein’s most recent assault weapons ban as a valid hunting/sporting rifle despite being functionally identical to an AR-15. (Assault weapons bans, state or federal, typically don’t actually ban military grade firearms, they only ban guns that LOOK LIKE military grade firearms which isn’t the same thing).

    That said, I think what people fail to emphasize is that while these regulations won’t necessarily stop mass shootings what they will reduce are the number of commonplace shootings that the media usually ignore. Even if you don’t stop mass shootings, you can still save thousands of lives by implementing mandatory safe storage laws, universal background checks, universal registration & waiting periods.

    I’d love to see mandatory training & testing added to that, but it’s unlikely to survive a constitutional challenge unless it was government funded/free.

    Most importantly, all of this has to be done at a national level or it’s a waste of time. State level gun laws on things like ammunition purchases & equipment simply don’t work. What’s the point in having mandatory background checks for ammunition purchases or bans on high capacity magazines in one state when the next state over sells the things with no regulation?

  3. kyoseki says

    For the comparison with other countries, it is not only laws that are different. E.g. in Europe, we do not have that fascination with guns.

    Exactly. In Europe (I’m British, but live in the US), guns are a hobby, they’re a pastime, they’re not endowed with any kind of freedom giving magical powers.

    It’d be nice if they were relegated to that kind of status here, but I don’t think it’s going to happen until they’re effectively made mundane & boring by turning gun ownership into a chore like jury duty.

  4. says

    kyoseki (#3) –

    When the rare mass shooting in the UK occurs (specifically, the Dunblane massacre) the UK acts effectively, but does not overreact. See also Canada’s handling of the 2014 shootings in Ottawa, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, et al. And most of these countries have large numbers of gun owners.

    Meanwhile, US politicians say “Nothing can be done except pray” and then go on to blame immigrants for the shootings perpetrated by white men. And maybe legalize more guns, if they can get campaign donations for it.

  5. kyoseki says

    Meanwhile, US politicians say “Nothing can be done except pray” and then go on to blame immigrants for the shootings perpetrated by white men. And maybe legalize more guns, if they can get campaign donations for it.

    Oh, I’m not excusing US politicians, these guys are all asshats, especially the “I’ll pray for xx” douchebags who take a fuckton of money from the NRA.

    I’m just pointing out that as long as people have access to guns, you’re going to get mass shootings, they’re incredibly hard to prevent, so pushing background checks etc as a panacea to mass shootings is disingenuous. We should absolutely have them, because they’ll help stop the bulk of firearms deaths that don’t make the news unless they’re particularly gruesome.

    Incidentally, Dunblane was the second major mass shooting in the UK resulting in changes to the firearms laws. The first was the Hungerford massacre in 86 or 87, after which the UK confiscated all semiautomatic rifles (not just the ones fitting the somewhat arbitrary definition of assault weapon, but all of them). The next mass shooting used handguns and killed more people (resulting in handgun confiscation) – which is also the point I was trying to make regarding assault weapons legislation.

    Neither option (confiscation of rifles or handguns) is likely to happen here, however, it was only possible in the UK because firearms ownership was explicitly a privilege and not a right, which is, unfortunately, the situation here.

  6. John Morales says

    Jörg above, I’m also not American, but recently read this article which seems plausible to me: Why mass shootings don’t convince gun owners to support gun control.

    One thing I often hear in the wake of these endless mass shootings is, “Surely this will convince those gun people. Surely the carnage and suffering are bad enough now that they’ll feel compelled to support some gun control.”
    This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the cognitive and emotional dynamics at work. It presumes that mass shootings constitute an argument against guns, to be weighed against arguments in their favor. But to gun enthusiasts, mass shootings are not arguments against guns but for them. The rise in mass shootings is only convincing both sides that they’re right, causing them to dig in further.

  7. StevoR says

    It is misleading to automatically all classify mass shootings as terrorism, domestic or otherwise.

    In fairness, the US govt agencies responsible here have been very cautious in labelling this terrorism – took them a long time and they did so after it was apparent that at least one of the murderers here had sworn a pledge to Daesh.

    The situation with US gun laws (or lack thereof) is just obscene. I support responsible gun ownership – and strong gun laws and restrictions so that only people who really need and can really be trusted with them have them.

  8. John Morales says

    StevoR:

    In fairness, the US govt agencies responsible here have been very cautious in labelling this terrorism – took them a long time and they did so after it was apparent that at least one of the murderers here had sworn a pledge to Daesh.

    The deed was terrorism, the label itself is irrelevant.

    (I get you’re making a distinction between stochastic terrorism and organised terrorism, but you’re literally claiming that unless it was Daesh-related, it would not be proper to label it terrorism)

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