There is a continuously raging debate in America over gun control.
Between the political left & right in America, hard lines are being drawn in the sand over the issue of gun violence. On the left, we see everything from “common sense” policies to all-out calls for banning the 2nd amendment, while on the right see a mixture of willingness to acquiesce as well as complete opposition to anything but a fully open and unregulated gun market.
The “March For Our Lives” generated millions of dollars in support, while the NRA has seen a spike in membership since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. By any reasonable measure, support on both sides of this issue appear strong.
Unfortunately, thorough investigation into the causes of gun violence is currently lacking. Low-brow memes come from both sides, aiming to simplify a highly complex topic into solutions which, if sufficient, would have long ago been put in place.
I do not believe that the average person has a clear understanding of certain facts when it comes to gun violence statistics, nor do they have a clear understanding of trends of gun violence over time.
In my mind, the only way for there to be productive public discourse on issues of gun violence is for educated parties to discuss problems and solutions with a common understanding of statistics and facts on the subjects discussed. As such, this article aims to provide some insights into what we currently know about gun violence.
Gun Violence Is Not On The Rise – Media Coverage Of Gun Violence Is
Gun violence has been declining for the last 20+ years. From 1993 to 2013, gun homicides decreased by 49%, and non-fatal gun crimes dropped by 69% as well.
Despite the decline, people’s perception of gun violence has not caught on, largely due to more media coverage of mass public shootings. In research done by Pew Social Trends, it was found that only 12% of American surveyed thought that gun crime had gone down, and whopping 56% of people thought it had gone up!
Most Gun Deaths Are Suicides – One Third Are Murders
Approximately 60% of gun deaths are suicides. 7 out of 10 suicides are committed by white males. Whites, Asians, and Pacific Islanders all have relatively higher rates of suicide, while Hispanics show lower rates and African American’s the least.
Approximately 33% of gun deaths in America are homicides.
Handguns Kill More People Than Any Other Type Of Gun
Approximately 80% of all gun murders are committed by handguns, yet the most popular discussions about gun violence are centered on “assault weapons.” In general, people seem less inclined to limit or ban the access to handguns due to their association with self defense, and handgun bans were decided to be unconstitutional in the Columbia v. Heller decision of 2008.
Worth noting, the worst school shooting we’ve ever had (Virginia Tech) was carried out by a man with two handguns – a Glock 19 and a Walther P22. The worst school massacre in America was committed in 1927, when Andrew Kehoe used firebombs, Pyrotol, dynamite, and a Winchester 54 to kill 43 people at the Bath Consolidated School in Michigan.
Violent crime, including gun crimes, are over-represented in certain areas of the country. 26% of American gun homicides occur in areas that comprise 1.6% of the nation’s population, primarily taking place in impoverished areas of big cities.
50 people per month were murdered in Chicago in 2016 & 2017. 3 months of gun murders in Chicago outnumbered the total deaths of the last 11 years by mass public shootings, but we fail to see anybody marching for these victims.
In 2014, 54% of counties had zero murders. 2% of counties accounted for 51% of murders in America.
Within those areas, murders are even further concentrated. This speaks volumes to the socioeconomic aspects of violence in general, and of course, this can be extended to gun violence.
What Are We Actually Trying To Solve?
We cannot achieve anything if we do not have a clearly defined goal. Do we want to reduce overall gun deaths by as large of a margin as possible? Do we want to reduce the number of gun murders each year? Do we want to stop school shootings as our primary priority? Do we want to reduce the number of young children killed by guns each year? How about older children? Depending on the answer, different solutions will be needed.
If you want to reduce the number of people killed by firearms each year in America, then it would be logical to first approach gun suicides. As stated above, the vast majority of gun deaths are suicides, and the vast majority of those suicides are committed by white males. Considering that anti-white-male rhetoric is fairly common on social media and fringe “news” websites these days, I do not believe that there are a lot of public support around this issue. I am not suggesting that you should or should not care, rather I am simply stating that the current social climate does not appear to care about issues that affect white males in the largest numbers.
If you want to reduce the number of gun murders each year, we need to take a look at where most gun murders are happening, look at the circumstances surrounding those murders, and identify what common threads exist among these heinous crimes. One actionable step we can take is to strengthen the budget and participation in the National Violent Death Reporting System. Currently, 40 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico participate.
If you want to stop mass public shootings and school shootings, then we need to take into other concerns. Despite what some pundits might posit, mental illness does play a significant role in mass public shootings. For starters, research has shown that people with severe mental illness which interferes with their daily activities and responsibilities are more likely to commit violent acts than those without, especially in cases where drug abuse is involved.
According to Mass Murder In The United States: A History, 59% of the 185 mass public shootings in the US between 1900 and 2017 were carried out by someone who was either previously diagnosed with or showing strong signs of serious mental illness. Rates of mental illness in mass public shooters are three times higher than the general population, and rates of serious mental are fifteen times higher among mass public shooters compared to the general population.
The claim that mental illness is not a factor because mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence is a poorly structured argument. Prevalence of victimization within a group does not preclude that group from committing violent acts.
While I do believe we need to do all in our power to stop mass public shootings, there are two things we must keep in mind:
- Mass public shootings are hard to prevent, no matter what laws we put in place.
- Mass public shootings as a whole make up a relatively small number of overall gun violence victims.
On one hand, we have the “March For Our Lives” and the related media coverage which has made it seem that the biggest problems facing us today has to do with school shootings, mass public shootings, and assault rifles. School shootings and mass public shootings may kill the most people in a single instance, but do not kill the most people on a yearly basis. As of March 14, 2018, guns had killed 21 people in mass public shootings, and 2837 people in general gun violence as a whole. This is not to say that those 21 people killed in mass public shootings are any less important than the 2837 people killed by other gun violence, but I believe we need to work toward reducing the total number of gun deaths, not just those that are scary and sensationalized by the media.
Moral of the story – we need to know what we are after if we want to make progress on reducing gun violence.
We need to focus on what it will take to reduce the largest numbers of gun deaths in America, and as such we need to look deeply into suicide, the places where gun deaths are most likely to occur, and the circumstances surrounding those deaths. Some of this will need to come through policing, some of it through policy, and some of it through communities most affected by gun violence to be open to communicating things that they know that the rest of us don’t.
Help your police do their job by giving them information they need to do their job. Contact authorities if you are worried about someone being at risk of committing violence. Encourage your representatives to support funding for large scale gun violence research.
The only way we can solve these issues are if we are united as a country, not divided by low-brow memes and the unwillingness to hear all sides of the gun violence debate.