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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.


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.

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.


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.


  • “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


Zack Dylan from Dallas on February 26, 2019:

Hi Rupert, I am not one who finds joy in getting into arguments over hot button issues, however I do find extreme importance in dialogue. I do find issues with several items in you hub. One being the constant comparisons to other countries. America has a constitution that secures the citizen's right to bear arms. We also have laws on the books outlawing murder, rape, incest, child abuse, child neglect, and yet these issues continue to happen. There seems to be the suggestion that the sheer number of fire arms in the US contribute to higher rates of "mass murder." I would argue, and I think fairly, that the fire arms, or number of fire arms is not the issue at all. If we were to remove humans from the equation, then there would be no murder by ways of fire arms at all. If we enact stricter gun laws, or in any way try to solve the problem by placing controls on people, we will still have murder, and we will still have mass murder. People have the ability to adapt and over come.

Thousands of people have died in groups of five or more by means of car (malicious intent to kill, not just accidents), bombs, airplanes, and I'm sure other means that I haven't considered. By this logic alone it would seem to me that this is more of a people problem than a gun problem.

Let me provide you with a hypothetical scenario that if you have children of your own, I encourage you to play along with.

I live in an extremely rural area. Police response times are usually greater than 20 minutes. I have two beautiful daughters.If I were to live in a world were my right to bear arms were not secured, and I was met by a person intent on harming myself or my family with a gun that he had purchased illegally or even made himself I could call the police and wait for them to show up and find myself, or God forbid my daughters laying there in pools of blood. Would you mourn the loss of my family, or would you rejoice that there "might have been how many untold other murders prevented"?

I feel that to make the argument that something needs to be done about gun violence is a fair one. However, I also feel that to make the argument that any law that keeps it out of a criminal's hands as well as my hands is unacceptable, unless you can assure my safety and my families. So with this I ask, how would you protect my family from someone who has a gun illegally in a world where the are banned?

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on February 13, 2019:

Hello, Rupert, with all respect why are they piling up guns? Is it for protection/ defense, or for hunting?

Ordinary folks owning a gun for what? Perhaps The United State is not police safe? Thanks for the correction anyway, and have a nice time.

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on February 13, 2019:

Miebakagh let me step in here and make a correction to your comment. The vast majority of American gun owners are NOT criminals or mentally deranged. The overwhelming majority are ordinary folks who would never dream of going on a shooting rampage.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on February 13, 2019:

Hey, Paula, I agreed with all that you said. But controlling gun ownership in a country like the United States can be done and is difficulty. Majority of persons that owns a gun in the US are criminals, the mentally degraded as I had learned. The others were own by hunters and those who want gun for personal protection.

Some time late last year 2018, much discussion was carried in the forum on out-lawing gun ownership, constituional amendment, and so on. It seems to me that the majority do not like a change in the constitution. I was part of the discussion group going on in the forum then. But unfortunately I lost a dear maternal relation and I had to traval out and lost contact with the forum when I return.

Normally, as the talks in forums comes to an end, I copy and paste the discussion for my personal perusal. I would help then by refering you to the link. Thanks for imputing and commenting.

Suzie from Carson City on February 12, 2019:

Hi Rupert....In terms of this serious and controversial issue, I cannot seem to get myself down to one firm and adamant position. I do believe the Constitution should be upheld always. I think too much messing around with our established system, laws, privileges and/or responsibilities, is literally asking for complex problems now and in the future.

However, while I favor the right to bear arms and appreciate the importance, I am also in favor of strict rules & regulations involving who is able to acquire arms. In addition, the type of arms and ammunition should be controlled.

I am well aware that should decent, responsible individuals be denied the right to own guns for protection, only the criminals will have them. They will own weapons. The law means nothing to them. At that point, we're in the worst possible position ever.

There is much that can be done and numerous ways to insure that mass shootings will be prevented and eventually, stopped. Of course no one person has all the answers. This is a vital enough mission for all to work together toward a sound solution.

As always, Rupert, you have presented a great read. Peace, Paula

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on February 12, 2019:

"One way to cut down on the bloodshed is to make it difficult to acquire firearms. But that is not going to happen." Very true indeed. The culture of getting arms is as old as the United States. When the new immigrants move west, local hostility make them armed with guns before a police or army is formed. It is this culture that make the United States the worst country in the world as a gun trotting civilian country. Thanks, Rupert,for sharing.

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on February 12, 2019:

Dora. I wish I could be more optimistic but I see no hope that America will change its gun laws significantly in the foreseeable future. If the cold-blooded murder of 20 primary school children didn’t bring about dramatic change then nothing will.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on February 12, 2019:

" . . . a perpetual caravan of mourning for senseless death.” If this is not reason enough to change something, what will? And it's happening everywhere, it seems.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 12, 2019:

Fair point.The problem is that the single figures, almost daily, are adding up

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on February 12, 2019:

I am aware of the knife problem in the U.K. but even the most maniacal assailant with a blade can't take out dozens.

Liz Westwood from UK on February 12, 2019:

In the UK the school shooting in a primary school in Dunblane in 1996 is still remembered and brought about changes in school security and gun laws. Our problem over here is more with knife crime, especially in London.

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