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America’s Mass Shooting Epidemic

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

In the United States, mass shootings occur on an almost daily basis and, if the casualty count doesn’t reach well into double figures, they are routinely ignored by the national media.

No industrialized country comes anywhere near this level of carnage and yet millions of Americans, such as members of the National Rifle Association, do not see this as a problem. Unless, of course, one of their own becomes a victim. Yes, the COVID-19 crisis has caused shootings to decrease, but the fact still remains that the U.S. is plagued by gun violence.

americas-mass-shooting-epidemic

Gun Databank

The Small Arms Survey is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and is part of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies.

It says there are more than one billion small arms in the world and that 85 percent of these are owned by civilians. Americans own by far the largest number of these firearms, more than one for every adult in the country.

Here are some other firearm numbers:

  • Number of civilian guns owned per 100 people in the United States: 120.5
  • In the United Kingdom: 4.9
  • In Canada: 34.7
  • In Australia: 14.5
  • In Japan: 0.3

Homicide rate per 100,000 people in the United States: 7.10

  • In the United Kingdom: 0.15
  • In Canada: 0.61
  • In Australia: 0.18
  • In Japan: 0.00
  • United States share of world’s population: 4.4%
  • United States share of world’s civilian-owned firearms: 42%
  • United States share of world mass shooters: 31%

Arming the Shooters

It’s Dick and Jane simple for those with a mind to commit mass murder to arm themselves in the U.S.

  • The April 2007 Virginia Tech shooter (23 dead) bought pistols, a Walther P-22 at a pawn shop and a Glock 9 mm from a gun shop.
  • The Sandy Hook shooter of December 2010 (20 children, six adults dead) used his mother’s legal semi-automatic .22-rifle.
  • The man who killed 12 people in an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre (July 2012) used legally purchased firearms.
  • Charleston, South Carolina, June 2015. Nine people were murdered by a man who purchased a pistol even though a previous drug arrest disqualified him from owning firearms.
  • The Orlando, Florida shooter of June 2016 (49 dead) legally purchased an AR-15 assault weapon and several other firearms.
Makeshift memorials of flowers, balloons, and stuffed animals appear after each outrage.

Makeshift memorials of flowers, balloons, and stuffed animals appear after each outrage.

  • The man who killed 59 and injured 422 at a Las Vegas concert (October 2017) had an arsenal of 49 weapons, all of which were bought legally.
  • The Parkland, Florida high school killer of February 2018 (17 dead) legally purchased a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle.
  • The man who killed 11 Jews at worship in a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018 legally owned an assault rifle and three handguns.
  • The El Paso Walmart shooter of August 2019 (23 dead) used legally acquired weapons.
  • And, at an as yet unknown location, an unknown gunman will kill multiple people with a legally purchased weapon.

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The Gun Shows

Gun shows are a place for shooters with evil intent can easily obtain firepower. What’s known as the “gun show loophole” allows private vendors to sell weapons without background checks and without keeping records of the sale.

There are about 5,000 of these shows a year in the United States and few are bigger than Wanenmacher’s Tulsa Arms Show (below). Held in Oklahoma City’s vast Expo Center it features the tables and booths of more than 4,200 vendors.

The Guardian sent reporter Stephen Marche to check out the February 2019 show: “Wanenmacher’s is where the ordinary American gun culture is on its most expansive display,” he wrote. “There are two gun cultures in America now, not just one. The first is a celebration of weapons and of the freedom weapons promise, a culture of resistance to government, of revolutionary individualism, a culture as old as the country itself, and the other, much newer, a perpetual caravan of mourning for senseless death.”

The Psychology of the Mass Killer

It’s very difficult to create a profile of mass killers. One thing that can be said with certainty is that spree or rampage killers are overwhelmingly male. But, millions of other men are not mass murderers.

It’s also true that they are mentally ill. Planning and carrying out a mass murder has to be considered outside the realm of normal behaviour. But, the vast majority of people with mental health issues don’t commit such atrocities.

One common thread seems to be a life with a lot of disappointments; failed relationships, lack of career success, monetary stress. But, there are millions of folk with lives that are humdrum and unsuccessful that don’t go out and kill dozens of people.

Social isolation and feelings of being insignificant seem to be frequent traits of these killers. Again though, millions of people who struggle with friendships and low self-esteem don’t snap and commit acts of grotesque violence.

So, it’s impossible to predict who is going to become the next mass shooter. One way to cut down on the bloodshed is to make it difficult to acquire firearms. But that is not going to happen.

americas-mass-shooting-epidemic

Bonus Factoids

  • Americans buy 12 billion rounds of ammunition each year.
  • Jessica Ghawi, 24, was a victim of the Aurora, Colorado movie theatre massacre. Her parents, Lonnie and Sandy Phillips, sued the gun dealer who sold the shooter 4,000 rounds of ammunition. But, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act protected the vendor and the couple were stuck with the defendant’s $264,000 legal costs.
  • In December 2014, Veronica Rutledge was shopping at a Walmart store in Idaho. Her two-year-old son was in the shopping cart when he reached into his mother’s purse and picked up the handgun, which discharged. Veronica Rutledge was 29 years old.
  • According to Stephen Marche in The Guardian, “There are 57 times as many school shootings in the U.S. as there are in the rest of the industrialized world combined.”
  • Over the course of the three-day Independence Day holiday weekend in 2021, the United States experienced more than 400 shootings that took in excess of 150 lives.

Sources

  • “Civilian Firearms Holdings, 2017.”Smallarmssurvey.org, 2018.
  • “America’s Unique Gun Violence Problem, Explained in 17 Maps and Charts.” German Lopez, Vox, November 8, 2018.
  • “How the Gunmen in the Deadliest U.S. Mass Shootings Got Their Guns.” Michael R. Sisak, Associated Press, February 16, 2018.
  • “Guns v Grief: Inside America’s Deadliest Cultural Chasm.” Stephen Marche, The Guardian, February 7, 2019.
  • “Mass Shootings: Why It’s So Hard to Predict Who Will Snap.” Stephanie Pappas, Live Science, July 23, 2012.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor

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