Yes, Mass Shootings Are Caused by Guns

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An article by Max Fisher and Josh Keller appeared in the November 7 New York Times that explains convincingly why the US has so many mass shootings:

A graphic at the top of the article points out that

“The United States has 270 million guns and had 90 mass shooters from 1966 to 2012; no other country had more than 46 million guns or 18 mass shootings in the same period”.

Mental illness is no more prevalent in the US than in other countries, so this is not the explanation for the excess shootings. Instead, the number of guns is what is really distinctive about the US. The US had 4.4% of the world’s population and 42% of its guns. From 1966 through 2012, 31 percent of the world’s mass shooters were Americans. It is not the case that Americans are more violent than citizens of other countries. America is not more prone to crime than other countries. For example, the risk of being robbed in London is about the same as in New York. But the risk of being killed in the process is 54 times higher in New York. The authors, in their short article, sift through numerous research studies and come to the straightforward conclusion:

“The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.”

Of course, the article points out that mass shootings only account for a fraction of the gun deaths in America:

“In 2013, American gun-related deaths included 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides and 505 deaths caused by an accidental discharge. That same year in Japan, a country with one-third America’s population, guns were involved in only 13 deaths.”

Day to day gun violence is of greater magnitude than these mass shootings, horrible as they are.

None of this is surprising to me. According to recent articles in the press, people in Texas are considering carrying guns to church now, and police are advocating that people try to figure out what they would do in case they find themselves attacked by a gunman. It is depressing to see such a fatalistic acceptance of the situation they are in. But this is not limited to Texas. At my own place of work in New York, I saw a presentation by our security people on what to do under such circumstances! You need to make a decision whether to flee, hide, or fight. This is crazy! We should not have to resort to such desperate measures.

Unfortunately our entire legal system is ill-adapted to dealing with the excessive number of guns. Our constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. Thus we cannot confiscate guns, nor forbid their manufacture or sale. We have a hodgepodge of state laws that offer limited to no protection to unarmed citizens, including innocent concert or restaurant goers, schoolchildren or teachers, office or factory workers. We need to get control of this menace, despite one hand being tied behind our backs.

The number of people killed by guns is comparable to the number killed by cars and trucks (in the USA about 40,000 in 2016). Numbers are comparable in other countries. In response to the situation with vehicles, everywhere there are laws requiring drivers to be licensed, there are numerous traffic devices and road design standards, laws punishing misuse of vehicles, and insurance for people in case of road accidents. There are research programs and development projects focused on technology to make driving safer. All eminently sensible measures that probably keep the numbers of road deaths from being even worse. But what do we Americans have with respect to guns?

What are your ideas?

2 thoughts on “Yes, Mass Shootings Are Caused by Guns”

  1. The comparison with car violence is very apt. Nicholas Kristof, in the New York Times, has made that point before, with statistics to emphasize that the many ‘regulations” (the forbidden action, so hated by anti-government libertarians) have indeed saved millions of lives that would otherwise have been lost to car violence (i.e. accidents). Here’s Kristof’s latest outpouring:

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