By John P. Walsh
Posted December 6, 2014.
updated: October 2, 2015;
updated: February 14, 2018 (Parkland high school shooting — at least 17 killed, suspect in custody, Florida sheriff says).
On a typical day in the United States, not all firearms (a.k.a. guns) are used for “hunting,” “sport” or to “protect one’s family” as stated by President Obama in his press conference on October 1, 2015 at the White House in the wake of the mass shooting at Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon.
At last report, 10 people were killed (including the gunman) and 7 others critically wounded in that recent school shooting. It is the 44th mass killing incident in the U.S. in 2015 with three months to go.
Mass Shooting Statistics
Since the tragic and disturbing Columbine massacre in 1999 (13 killed; 21 wounded) there have cropped up in intervals of about one per week mass shootings in the U.S., not all of them school shootings, that have gained intense media attention: the Fort Hood shooting (November 5, 2009), the Gabby Giffords shooting (January 8, 2011), the Aurora movie theater shooting (July 20, 2012), the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting (Aug. 6, 2012), the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting (Dec. 14, 2012), the Navy Yard shooting (Sept. 16, 2013), the Kansas Jewish Community Center shooting (April 14, 2014), the Charleston Church shooting (June 18, 2015), the Chattanooga recruiting center shooting (July 16, 2015) and now the Roseburg community college shooting.
A 2013 report cited 547 lives were taken between 1983 and 2012 in 78 public mass shootings. From 2013 into 2015 there were an additional 142 mass shootings (25 of them suicides or attempted suicides) in schools.
Everyday in America guns are used to kill about 80 people and wound 300 more. For accidental gun shootings, 3 people die and another 30 are wounded everyday.
In the wake of this carnage, the mainstream media coverage felt a bit different this time — almost as if this kind of thing could have been happening for the first time — or that they were somehow having to start over in their approach.
Reporters seemed to embody a deeper scrutiny of, or despair at, this latest school massacre only four weeks since the murder by gunfire of TV reporter 24-year-old Alison Parker and TV cameraman 27-year-old Adam Ward In Virginia.
Popular support for “Gun Control”?
A Pew Research Center study released on August 13, 2015, shows a large majority of Americans in support of several specific gun policy proposals:
˙79% favor laws to prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns.
˙70% support the creation of a federal database to track all gun sales.
˙57% support a ban on assault-style weapons.
˙85% of Americans favor expanded background checks (88% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans).
President Obama hinted in his press conference at another finding in the August Pew Research study when he said, “I would particularly ask America’s gun owners — who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt, for sport, for protecting their families — to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.”
His comment was a not-too-subtle reference to the National Rifle Association (NRA) which the Pew Study finds the public has some shifting opinions about.
While mass shooting crimes are, statistically, a snippet of America’s real field of action for gun violence, they are an especially destructive form in itself and its repercussions for the wider community. In addition to a national discussion about the mind or “profile” of a mass murderer (usually devolving into mental health concerns and/or ignorance about a reliable profile), the impact on the local or national community is less explored.
At his press conference, President Obama predicted a routine counter-punch to his gun control comments and it came swiftly. Reported by media outlets including WGN Chicago as a top story, gun-rights advocate Mike Huckabee stated the president was wrong for trying to “exploit” the Oregon shooting and that another mass killing should have no serious effect on the public debate about gun ownership in the U.S.
Yet impacts of a mass shooting are never as simple as its politics. Deleterious effects from gun violence extend to the victims and their families, and into the wider community.
Active Shooter Drills
Even extremely realistic school-shooting simulations known as “active-shooter” drills staged by local law enforcement agencies using school grounds, staff and students as actors are censured as counterproductive by psychologists and security specialists. Although the best way to help first responders prepare for gun-related violence on campus, the mere simulation of gun violence causes psychological distress among students and their families and work to make death tolls worse.
Gun crime: homicides, suicides, and mass shootings
In 2011, 68% of homicides in the U.S. were gun crimes, even though these and all other crimes have dropped by almost 40% since 1993. Americans, however, continue to view gun crime as a pervasive and even worsening problem.
In 2011, 11,068 people died in gun homicides in the U.S. That number reflects a steep decline in gun homicides since the 1980’s. Yet statistics support the conclusion that more guns and access to them results in more gun violence, including murder crimes.
Media coverage of gun homicides is found mainly in densely-populated urban areas where there is, presumably, a higher concentration of guns. Mass shootings, however, frequently occur in rural or suburban settings.
Based on the level of shock associated with shootings, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are the long-lasting psychological consequences of all those directly experiencing or witnessing any part of a mass shooting. This especially pertains to children.
Does gun access cause more suicide?
The most annual gun deaths in the U.S. are neither homicides, mass shootings or accidents. They are suicides.
In 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 19,990 people died by suicide with a firearm. Those yearly numbers are consistent at least since the 1990’s.
Does gun access lead to more suicides? That gun suicides are less common in states where gun ownership requires criminal and mental illness background checks point to that link.
It is obvious that by having access to a gun, the risk of having an accident increases -– but is that true for homicide and suicide?
Suicide attempts by guns are almost always fatal while suicide attempts using other methods result in death about 6% of the time. That data confirms that a firearm’s effectiveness as a lethal weapon is undeniable. It precludes the desperate person any second thoughts.
Males arrested for 75% of all crimes
Arrest statistics make clear that it is not the criminal’s age or race but gender that the law-abiding citizen should fear. Males are arrested for 75% of all crimes. These criminal acyvities fall into three braod categories, including violent crime; property crime; and, assault.
Access to guns aids this criminal facility.
Guns and domestic abuse
For example, in a survey of battered women nearly 72% reported that guns had been used against them and to threaten to kill them.
For women who are abused (and not killed) 16% live in homes with a gun.
Abused women that were killed, about 50% lived in a home with a gun.
Statistics suggest that access to a gun is a risk factor for homicide in abusive relationships. This situation is beginning to be taken up by law enforcement in police interviews with battered women.
Mass shootings are a tiny percentage of all gun homicide. Further, the frequency and impact of mass shootings has not increased in the last 35 years at least.
Should focus be on the mentally ill to reduce most gun crime?
To focus public safety on the mentally ill in reaction to these horrific gun crimes is likely to produce small effect on their recurrence.
Several studies have shown that the mentally ill require good health care, though its funding is relatively scarce. During the Great Recession of 2008, budget cuts for mental health amounted to almost $2 billion. Despite the lack of resources and high profile political and media focus, the mentally ill are responsible for only about 5% of all crimes and even less for those involving guns.
Each week 30% of all gun deaths in the U.S. are children
Drug and alcohol abusers engage in violent acts seven times more than the mentally ill. Funding for substance abuse programs should be even more important to gun safety advocates based on those statistics.
The link between gun violence and domestic batterers is far greater than with the mentally ill. Of those 80 people killed by guns in a typical week in the U.S., 30% are children.
After non-gun accidents, gun shootings are the leading cause of death of children in the U.S.
Annual U.S. gun sales in billions of dollars
In 2009 there existed an estimated 310 million civilian guns (handguns, rifles, shotguns) in the U.S. and 2012 sales added $6 billion more.
Increased buying has hiked up privately-owned firearms by about 40% since 1994 when there were 192 million guns.
The exact number of concentrations of firearms in the U.S. is unknown. About 50% of Americans report at least one gun in the home. Gun ownership in the U.S. is heavily skewed to older white men.
The U.S. has more guns per capita than any land mass in the world. Poor countries in Central America, for example, record higher gun homicide rates than in the U.S.. But among developed nations, no country has more guns per person in private hands– nor a higher gun homicide rate– than in the United States.
The gun industry is prospering today. To paraphrase Charles Erwin Wilson, the Defense Secretary under President Eisenhower: “What is good for Sturm, Ruger & Co. is good for the nation.” There is some truth to it.
In 2012, the gun industry added $31.6 billion to the U.S. economy due to job creation and new sales taxes. The gun industry employs about 98,750 workers and 111,000 more workers as suppliers and retailers, such as Walmart.
While recreational use seems to be driving record sales, there is a darker side to the proliferation of gun ownership. As one gun advocate’s recent proclamation alludes– that “the (gun) industry has entered a golden era, a renaissance of gun ownership that transcends a dedicated segment of Americans who consider firearms a natural part of their lives”– it often equally ends those natural lives sooner than nature intends.
Despite guns crimes, the prospect for meaningful gun control in the U.S. is bleak.
Fewer than half of Americans think that gun laws should be stricter. Another half believes they are already too strict or just about right.
In a culture where money defines free speech and guns rights are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution’s second amendment, the prosperous gun industry and its supporters which is no less than half of the U.S. population will not be surrendering its arms soon.
Gun safety measures may have a more receptive audience than attempts at gun control. These include background checks.
The mindset of some gun-rights advocates may work to divide gun owners’ attitudes about select gun control measures. That may be part of President Obama’s comments for law-abiding gun owners to reflect on “the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.”
Controversial ideologies and opinion polls on guns
A controversial example of a mindset is the so-called NRA embrace of “insurrectionist ideology.” This asserts that the intent of the second amendment is to permit American citizens to shoot and kill federal agents and law enforcement officers in the event that they believe those agents are attempting to facilitate or impose some form of government tyranny.
Regarding the NRA specifically, Americans are divided on the organization:
˙40% think the organization is too influential over gun laws.
˙52% say it has too little or the right amount of influence.
While opinions on the NRA are entrenched and polarized, there is slight but significant movement on another issue pertaining to guns.
In 2015 Americans did an about face on the question as to whether it was more important to control gun ownership (50%) or protect the right of Americans to own guns (47%).
˙57% of whites favor gun rights over gun control.
˙75% of blacks favor gun control over gun rights.
˙72% of Hispanics favor gun control over gun rights.
Changing demographics and marginally shifting American opinion on gun control may be the sliver of hope President Obama perceived when he said in his October 1 news conference: “It will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision. If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.”
While polls find that over 60% of the public thinks background checks are a good idea, neither the gun industry nor gun owners want the extra burden. In an almost $32 billion-a-year industry ($6 billion in sales), background checks would be a major government intrusion.
As long as the number of gun fatalities is status quo, there likely will be no new impetus for gun control. In places like Arizona, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Michigan, Nevada and Oregon, the rate of gun deaths has exceeded traffic fatalities and they are on par with each other in Ohio and Pennsylvania. It is the choice of individuals and society–50% of which are gun owners and 95% of which own cars -–as to whether around 30,000 fatalities for each category of combustibles is a fair and acceptable human cost for their unbridled use.
Even if, as Russ Thurman writes, “Gun ownership has gone mainstream…It’s the fun factor of firearms that has been restored to the culture,” this cannot be the responsible gun owner’s sole matter of importance when discussing this uniquely American issue.
Pew Research Center study – http://www.people-press.org/2015/08/13/continued-bipartisan-support-for-expanded-background-checks-on-gun-sales/ – retrieved October 2, 2015.
Ask America’s gun owners…to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you- http://time.com/4058961/oregon-shooting-president-obama-transcript-speech/?xid=tcoshare -retrieved October 2, 2015.
Effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)- see http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/newsletters/research-quarterly/V18N3.pdf;
especially on children – comments by Dr. Alan Lipman director of the Center for the Study of Violence and professor at the George Washington University Medical Center – https://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2012-12-17/mass-shootings-and-their-effect-american-psyche- retrieved October 2, 2015.
“active-shooter” drills – http://americanfreepress.net/bloody-school-shooting-drills-in-vogue/ – retrieved October 2, 2015.
142 mass shootings in schools; 25 suicides or attempted – http://everytown.org/article/schoolshootings-/- retrieved October 2, 2015.
are used to kill about 80 people and to wound 300 more – https://www.press.umich.edu/158723/private_guns_public_health#sthash.fmNmMTxZ.dpuf\- retrieved October 2, 2015.
accidental firearms shooting – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-helmke/private-guns-public-healt_b_38208.html
Gun crimes drop 40% – http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?iid=4616&ty=pbdetail;
Americans don’t sense decline in gun violence- http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/05/07/gun-homicide-rate-down-49-since-1993-peak-public-unaware/
19,990 died by suicide by firearm -http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr63/nvsr63_03.pdf;
Suicide by firearm less common in states with background checks – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091743512003295;
Males 75% of crime – https://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0325.pdf; 72% battered women report guns used against them – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448464/; 16% live in homes…yet 50% of abused women… – David Hemenway, “Private Guns, Public Health,” University of Michigan Press, 2006 p 123; Beginning to be taken up by law enforcement in police interviews – http://www.dangerassessment.org/DA.aspx and http://www.newrepublic.com/article/politics/magazine/102779/domestic-violence-vawa-maryland-abuse-women.
310 million civilian guns (2009) & 192 million firearms (1994) –http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/citation/quotes/6676;
gun ownership in the USA is heavily concentrated among older white men – http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/06/18/11-essential-facts-about-guns-and-mass-shootings-in-the-united-states/
Mass shootings tiny percentage of homicide – https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org/images/analysis-of-recent-mass-shootings.pdf; frequency and impact have changed little in the last 35 years- http://www.boston.com/community/blogs/crime_punishment/2012/08/no_increase_in_mass_shootings.html;
Mentally ill responsible for 5% of crime – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20591996; mental health budget cuts – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/17/seven-facts-about-americas-mental-health-care-system; drug and alcohol abusers engage in violent acts seven times more – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/18/health/a-misguided-focus-on-mental-illness-in-gun-control-debate.html; link gun violence and domestic batterers – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/26/opinion/gun-laws-and-the-mentally-ill.html;
Good for the gun industry good for the nation – http://www.nationalreview.com/article/352429/whats-good-america-robert-w-patterson;
At least one gun in home – http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2012/1217/US-gun-industry-is-thriving.-Seven-key-figures/47-percent;
$6 billion sales (2012) – http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2012/1217/US-gun-industry-is-thriving.-Seven-key-figures/6-billion;
USA more guns per capita for all & highest per capita rate for “developed” nations – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/15/what-makes-americas-gun-culture-totally-unique-in-the-world-as-demonstrated-in-four-charts/;
No higher gun homicide rate than USA – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/14/chart-the-u-s-has-far-more-gun-related-killings-than-any-other-developed-country;
Add $31.6 billion to economy & employment numbers – http://www.thegunmag.com/firearms-industry-bright-spot-in-struggling-world-economy/;
“A renaissance of gun ownership” – http://www.shootingindustry.com/u-s-firearms-industry-today-2012/
Fewer than half of Americans think gun laws should be stricter – http://www.gallup.com/poll/162083/americans-wanted-gun-background-checks-pass-senate.aspx; Money defines free speech – see 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission; 60% think background checks good idea – http://www.pollingreport.com/guns.htm; http://www.gallup.com/poll/162083/americans-wanted-gun-background-checks-pass-senate.aspx;
Insurrectionist ideology – http://www.examiner.com/article/flirting-with-treason-the-insurrectionist-ideology-of-the-nra-leadership
PEW research study results on NRA and question of gun rights versus gun control – http://www.people-press.org/2015/08/13/continued-bipartisan-support-for-expanded-background-checks-on-gun-sales/ – retrieved October 2, 2015.
Gun death rate exceeds traffic fatalities – http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/01/09/guns-traffic-deaths-rates/1784595/; 95% car owners – http://photos.state.gov/libraries/cambodia/30486/Publications/everyone_in_america_own_a_car.pdf