It should be alarming that mass shootings elicit a tepid reaction from many Americans. We have succumbed to an unacceptable numbness to the violence that plagues society. Mass shootings have almost become a norm, not an aberration. And instead of discussing the crux of the problem, Americans recite partisan arguments on 'gun control.' The most perplexing part of this debate is that the majority of Americans actually support 'gun control' when those specific words are not used to discuss the topic.
A recent poll by Quinnipiac University found that only 45% of Americans support more 'gun control.' Predictably, the vast majority of Republicans oppose 'gun control' while the majority of Democrats support increased 'gun control.' But, over 90% of Republicans and 98% of Democrats support laws requiring background checks for all would-be gun buyers. Similarly, polls found comparable bipartisan support for laws that would prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns. Although such laws may not prevent many of the mass shootings in America, it does indicate Americans are not as polarized on the topic as we once thought. If the words 'gun-control' are eliminated from the debate, it appears that the conversation may become less partisan and possibly more productive. How common are mass shootings, anyway?
A mass shooting, according to Mass Shooting Tracker, is defined as a shooting in which four or more people are shot. So far in 2015, there have been 294 mass shootings in the United States and 44 of the 296 mass shootings took place in a school setting. Again, 44 mass shootings took place in school settings in ONE year. Over 9,957 people have lost their lives to mass shootings in America so far in 2015. Yet, we still talk about how proposed solutions will fail instead of working together to develop viable solutions. We are experiencing an epidemic in the United States of America yet we are so pathetically numb that we won't do anything to help solve the problem.
Homicide Rate in the United States
The homicide rate in the United States (3.82 per 100,000) ranks hear Estonia, Chile, and Turkey. This kind of violence does not occur in other industrialized nations, such as Canada (1.44 per 100,000) and the United Kingdom (0.92 per 100,000). The United States of America is a nation with a clear violent crime problem. The firearm homicide rate in the United States is 20 times the average of other industrialized nations, excluding Mexico. Australia, after a mass shooting in 1996, enacted stricter gun laws and has witnessed a significant decline in homicide rates (1.1 per 100,000). Just over 67% of all homicides committed in the US are conducted with a firearm. It should also be noted that the murder rate in the US is declining, however.
Gun Ownership in the United States
The United States boasts the highest firearm-ownership rate in the world, by a wide margin. The most recent estimate indicates Americans collectively own over 270 million guns or 88.8 guns per 100 people. India comes in second place in terms of total guns owned by civilians at 46 million. Many European nations have very low firearm-ownership rates and also boast very low homicide rates.
Terrorism vs Gun Violence
American's overwhelmingly support legislation and action to prevent terrorist attacks, but we tend to ignore the problems at home. Since 2001, 3,380 Americans were killed by acts of terrorism but a whopping 406,496 were killed by gun violence during the same timeframe, according to the Center for Disease Control. Chicago has become such a dangerous place that it has earned the nickname Chiraq. Homicides have increased by 21% in 2015 and just over 60 people were murdered in September alone. Violent crime is out of control. Why isn't President Obama dedicating speeches to discuss this problem? The problem is vaster than gun violence. Passing gun control legislation — and we should — will only treat symptoms of the problem in today's America.
What conditions in the United States have led to this violence epidemic? Why do mass shootings occur? Why are large cities paralyzed by homicides? The true scope of the problem is vast, wide and deep. The problem is very complicated and the solution will require multifaceted efforts.
Is Mental Illness to Blame
According to the CDC, over 63.3 million Americans visited physicians to seek treatment for mental disorders as their primary diagnosis. Just under 20% of the US population seek help for mental disorders. But experts claim that roughly 25% of Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder. Mental health services are not only underfunded, individuals who struggle with mental health issues are also under-identified. Are individuals with mental health issues more likely to commit murders? Will restricting gun ownership for mentally ill individuals stem the homicide rate?
A recent study indicates that roughly 67% of perpetrators of mass shootings in the past 30 years exhibited signs of mental illness. However, similar research has found that individuals with mental illness — compared across the population — are a small part of the violent crime wave. But, they are more likely to be the perpetrator of large-scale mass shootings. Gang violence is, by far, the leading cause of violent crime. If no person with a mental illness committed a violent crime, the rate would only decrease by 4%. Mental illness appears to be a small part of a big problem.
Poverty and Wealth Inequality
It should come as no surprise that poverty is highly correlated with higher crime rates. Individuals in poor households are twice as likely to be subject to violent crime and are also more likely to experience violence as a result of firearm use. Both poor blacks and poor whites experience roughly the same degree of violent crime. Interestingly, the poor in urban areas experience the same degree of violent crime as the poor people living in rural areas. Poverty clearly creates conditions in which violent crime is more likely to occur.
Will Strict Gun Control Laws Help?
The 'gun control' debate should be focused on the sanctity of human life, not politics. We have been engaging in the wrong conversation and have only discussed solving symptoms of the real problem(s). The violent crime rate and mass shootings are symptoms of a far larger and pervasive problem. We are fools if we think enacting stricter gun control measures will solve the violent crime problem in the United States. Chicago has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, yet suffers from the worst homicide rate in the country. The Chicago Police Department has confiscated thousands of illegal firearms in 2015. Criminals will find a way to purchase guns just like they find a way to sell and use drugs.
Switzerland has the third highest gun ownership rate per citizen yet the homicide by gun rate is extremely low (0.77 per 100,000 people). This notion rings true for countries such as Finland, Serbia, Cyprus, and Sweden. All of the aforementioned countries rank in the top ten in terms of gun ownership rate but experience a low degree of homicides by guns. Norway ranks eleventh in terms of gun ownership but only experienced two homicides by guns in 2010. Amazingly, Iceland experienced no murders in 2010 even though the country ranks 15th in gun ownership rate. A high gun ownership rate does not necessarily equate with a high homicide-by-firearm rate. Something more is wrong in the United States of America.
What is the Answer?
Until both politicians and citizens drop the partisan arguments and realize that the United States of America has a multifaceted and complicated problem to deal with, viable solutions will be elusive. The US could theoretically enact strict gun control measures and fail to solve the problem. We have tried this in certain areas of the country, and the laws have failed. Chicago is the perfect example. Washington DC is also another good example. Until we work together to solve the conditions that lead to violent crime — we will continue to argue and will never solve the problem.
Should the United States take steps to enact stricter measures to ensure guns do not end up in the wrong hands? Absolutely - our gun laws in this country clearly need work. US law requires a license to drive a car yet anyone over 18 in most states in this country can walk in and buy a firearm. Do we need to solve the problems and conditions that lend to violent crime? That is exactly where the conversation should begin and end.
Life is too precious to allow for politics to get in the way. We must find a way to stem the tide of mass shootings and violent crime. And most importantly, we need to leave the next generation with a better America, not a country entrapped by useless political rhetoric and defensive gun owners. The 'gun-control' debate creates a red herring, not viable solutions. We must work together to solve the daunting problems America faces, not create more by closing our hearts and minds.