A Narrow Focus on Mass Shootings Undermines Efforts to Solve America’s Gun Problem

 “To save the greatest number of lives,” write several Guardian reporters in a long, data-heavy article, “it’s the everyday violence – not just the mass shootings – that we need to prevent.”  

Truthdig   June 23, 2016

Joseph Martinez / CC BY-ND 2.0

Gun control advocates cite Australia as a model for how the United States can address gun violence. But for four reasons, the countries are not comparable.

“To save the greatest number of lives,” write several Guardian reporters in a long, data-heavy article, “it’s the everyday violence – not just the mass shootings – that we need to prevent.”

For starters, “America’s gun problem is dramatically larger in scale than Australia’s was”:

In the US, more than 10,000 Americans will likely be killed in gun murders this year. Another 20,000 will likely be lost to gun suicide. The total number of gun deaths and violent injuries will be close to 100,000.

Even before the “big melt”, as one Australian gun researcher put it, Australia’s per capita rate of gun homicide was much lower than America’s. Handguns were already strictly regulated.


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In 1995, before it implemented sweeping gun buybacks, Australia saw 67 gun murders, fewer than last year’s total murders in Oklahoma City. After Australia’s buyback of nearly a million guns, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, the nation’s gun murders dropped by nearly half, from 67 to about 30 gun murders per year. Researchers are still debating how much of that drop was attributable to the new gun control policies, since gun murders were already trending down.                        

“The US doesn’t just have a mass shooting problem – it has an enormous, multifaceted gun violence problem”:

Mass shootings are a growing and alarming phenomenon in the US. …

But by any definition, they make up only a tiny percentage of the overall toll of gun deaths. …

While the number has steadily increased in absolute terms, this is due to population growth – the death rate per capita has hovered at around 10.4 per 100,000 since 1999. …

Almost two-thirds of deaths – a proportion that has risen since 1999 – are suicides.

The rest – about 11,000 a year – are homicides. …

The US could end all mass shootings today and its rates of gun violence would still be many times higher than other rich countries.

“There is a stark racial disparity in gun violence”:

Much of America’s day-to-day gun violence is concentrated in America’s poorest, most racially segregated neighborhoods – places with high rates of unemployment, struggling school systems, and high levels of mistrust between police officers and community members.

African Americans, who represent 13% of the total population, make up more than half of overall gun murder victims. Roughly 15 of the 30 Americans murdered with guns each day are black men.

Gun violence in America, as criminologist Frank Zimring put it, is another regressive tax on the poor. Some black neighborhoods have experienced so much violence that their residents report symptoms of post-traumatic stress at rates comparable to veterans of war.

Because everyday gun violence is concentrated in racially segregated neighborhoods, it’s easy for millions of Americans to think they won’t be affected.

“Too much emphasis on mass shootings has a cost”:

America’s gun control debate continues to revolve around the exact circumstances of the shooting that is currently on the news. Is a new gun law worth it, or not? That depends on whether it might have prevented this particular shooting. While this is an understandable, human response, it is a terrible way to go about saving lives. …

The shock and horror that follows mass shootings has led to an obsessive focus on the dangers of military-style rifles – even though rifles of any kind were used in less than 3% of gun murders in 2014, according to FBI data.

A tunnel focus on mass shootings has also fueled the public perception that mental illness is driving gun violence. But experts caution that even miraculously curing all schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression in American might only lead to a 4% reduction in overall violence.

Read the entire detailed report here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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