Another Day, Another Shooting - Gun Violence in America
Gun Violence - Another Shooting in America
Las Vegas, Nevada, also known as “Sin City,” is famous for her high stakes and high rollers. Today, the ever popular Vegas Strip became the location of yet another American tragedy. With one dead and one wounded, police found themselves in a standoff with an armed suspect who had barricaded himself inside a double-decker tour bus. While our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out to those involved, we as a nation have grown increasingly desensitized to these incidents, which means they are far too commonplace.
Since this article was published, we have learned the shooter in this incident was 55-year-old Rolando Cardenas. Cardenas was sitting on the upper level of a double-decker bus when he opened fire in front of the Cosmopolitan hotel-casino. Cardenas now faces several charges, including murder.
When did we become so numb that incidents such as this became nothing more than blips on the screens of our lives? Was it the classroom of first graders at Sandy Hook? Was it the theater in Aurora, Colorado? Was it the parking lot in Tucson, Arizona at a political rally? Or, was it Pulse Nightclub where innocent people spent the night dancing and hanging out with friends? Somewhere, something has gone horribly wrong in this country. These senseless tragedies occur, we watch a clip on our TVs or smartphones, or we might even take our outrage and frustrations to social media, while somewhere out there a family is grieving their loved one or many families are grieving.
Almost every day this occurs. In fact, since I wrote this article, it has happened again. Another incident of innocent people, terrorized by some mad gunman. This time – Cincinnati, Ohio. How many injured? 15? It does not matter what caused it to happen, be it terrorism, domestic terrorism, gang revenge, or domestic violence, what matters is that it happens at all. Of course, I do not believe in a Utopian society with no violence ever. Life is full of peace, love, and harmony. There will always be those who commit heinous acts of violence against others. I do believe we can make some changes that will curb some of the violence we are currently seeing.
From commons sense gun reform to universal background checks to comprehensive mental health care – from diagnosis to treatment to continuing care, there must be a way to combat this uniquely American problem of gun violence. The nation needs to come together, work across bipartisan lines and reach an agreement on what is acceptable and still falls within the 2nd Amendment.
American Gun Violence - A Look at the Numbers
According to Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit organization which collects and verifies accurate information regarding gun-related violence in the U.S., in 2017 to date, there has been a total of 13,247 incidents. Those incidents are broken down as follows:1
- Number of Deaths - 3369
- Number of Injuries - 6412
- Number of Children Killed or Injured (ages 0-11) - 136
- Number of Children Killed or Injured (ages 12-17) - 682
- Mass Shooting - 69
- Officer Involved Incident (Officer shot or killed) - 63
- Officer Involved Incident (Suspect shot or killed) - 507
- Home Invasion - 587
- Defensive - 499
- Unintentional - 479
Gun Violence and Race
The numbers above are for this year, 2017, to date. In a CDC report, in 2014, there was a total of 15,809 homicides, of which 10,945 were committed with a firearm. Approximately 42,000 suicides occurred in 2014, of which 21,334 were committed with a firearm.2 The statistics given may underplay how embedded gun violence is in America today, and how the effects are felt around the country. In America, twenty-two percent of adults know someone on a personal level, that was murdered by someone with a firearm, and six percent of those say the victim was family. There was twenty-nine percent of adults who knew someone who committed suicide with a gun, seven percent of those polled said it was a family member who had committed suicide.3
Both homicide and suicide results remained consistent in regards to age, where they live in the country, what political affiliation they belong to, or income.
Where the discrepancies come in was consistency in relationship to race. Close to forty-seven percent of black Americans know someone who was murdered by someone with a gun. Nineteen percent say they have lost someone in their family. To compare those numbers, white Americans reported only eighteen percent that knew someone killed with a gun, and only three percent lost a family member.
It is clear that gun violence affects the African-American population in a disproportionate manner. A 2014 study4 shows that black Americans have greater than twice the likelihood to die due to gun violence than do whites. The study surveyed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the past decade. The collected data between 2000 and 2010 showed a gun-related death rate of 18.5 per 100,000 people among blacks and 9 per 100,000 for whites. Hispanics saw 7 per 100,000, and other races fell even lower than that.
When we look at a closer state and city level, we find a racial divide which is even more striking.
For example, Washington, D.C, the African-American death rate due to gun violence is over thirteen and a half times that of whites.
New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Michigan, have the widest discrepancies when it comes to African-Americans killed due to gun violence, with all of them being right around four times greater than that of whites.
As described in the graph below, the largest variances fall between black men and white men. Women of both races is relatively equal.
Mass Shooting - defined as "a public mass shooting" where four or more indiscriminately chosen people, not including the perpetrator are killed. This definition echoes the FBI definition of "mass murder."
Mass Shootings - An American Epidemic
The United States is the leader of the world in gun massacres. This is not a title we should be proud to bear.
Mass shootings, while loosely defined as having at least four victims and doesn’t include gang-related deaths, or murders that involve family members. Recent mass shootings include the Pulse nightclub massacre in June 2016, which is on record as being the worst mass shooting in U.S. history; the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, and Sandy Hook Elementary School, both of which occurred in 2012.
The U.S. is home to 5 percent of the world population, yet we have 31 percent of total public mass shootings. In a first of its kind study, criminal justice associate professor Adam Lankford, of the University of Alabama, says, “People have been a little surprised by these statistics.”5 In his research, Lankford digs through records of all incidents and located factors which projected some differences between U.S. incidents and those throughout the world. For example, in the United States, people have a higher chance of being killed in a mass shooting at work or school. When we look at overseas gun violence and mass shootings, these tend to happen near or around military bases. In over half of the American cases, shooters used more than one firearm, and in global cases, shooters usually had one gun. United States mass shootings saw fewer victims on average, around 6.87 per case, whereas the 171 countries studied averaged 8.8 victims.
During his research presentation, Lankford said he believes there are a lower number of people killed in America during mass shootings because police are routinely trained to handle this type of situation.
Why does America have such a significant problem with this type of shooting, and other gun violence?
Data shows that many shooters involved in mass shootings were mentally ill. However, studies estimate mental illness cases have not increased by a significant amount, while mass shooting incidents have exploded across the United States.
Several researchers believe mass killings have a tendency to be contagious. When you have a shooting, it increases chances of one or more others taking place over the following two weeks, a so-called infection which lasts approximately thirteen days.6
What we call the copycat phenomenon, occurs more frequently in the United States because guns are readily accessible, where other countries have less access to firearms. The United States is home to somewhere between 270 million and 310 million firearms. With a population around 319 million, there is almost one firearm for every citizen.
One-third of all Americans state that someone who lives in their home owns a gun, according to the Pew Research Center.7 The country that has the second-highest number of firearms is India. Their 46 million firearms across a vast population over 1.25 billion, does not even make the top five countries who have the majority of all mass shootings. Numbers do show those countries who have the most restrictive laws regarding guns, have fewer incidents, and in the case of Australia, they had four mass shootings which happened between 1987 and 1996. Public opinion in regards to gun ownership shifted. Parliament enacted strict gun laws, and they have not had a mass shooting since.
What Do You Think?
Should we have universal background checks on all firearms purchases?
Universal Background Checks
What are universal background checks, and what will they accomplish? To put it simply, universal background checks will close loopholes in federal laws at gun shows and in private sales. U.S. law currently requires background checks for those who try to purchase firearms from a federally licensed dealer. However, that federal law does not require the same background checks for other private sales, such as gun shows. Some states do have their own laws which require background checks when it comes to private transactions.
Universal background checks were brought back into the national limelight after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The background checks are supported by mayors in several of America’s largest cities. Gabrielle Giffords, a gun violence survivor who is always a gun owner, supports the idea as well.8 A White House task force, which had been led by then Vice President Joe Biden, considered universal background checks for legislation, but it never made it to the table.
An attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Lindsay Nichols, said in his testimony to the Social Security Administration, “This may be the single most important gun violence prevention measure that the government could adopt.”9 According to Nichols, the legislation would close the loophole that dangerous criminals and those who are dangerously mentally ill, could and have used to gain access to firearms. Most of those responsible for mass shootings and gun violence in the United States have purchased their weapons legally.
In opposition to universal background checks, National Rifle Association President David Keene, in an interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley, said, he has no faith in the background checks, continuing to say they do not work.10
Keene spoke to Crowley days after sitting in on Biden’s task force. He made the implication that the task force was not sincere in considering any NRA position in regards to gun control. After the meeting with Biden and the task force the NRA made a public statement saying the meeting was not about keeping the children safe, and not much more than an agenda the Second Amendment.
There were portions the NRA and Keene himself favored, such as background checks to stop the mentally ill or violent from purchasing firearms. Attorney Lindsay Nichols points out that there is already a federal law for that. A major problem with the system in place is that a lot of states do not track and report anyone who has been legally declared dangerously mental ill. Now, President Trump and Republicans have rolled back the provision which prevented that from occurring. They no longer have to track the dangerously mentally ill, and they cannot be prevented from purchasing a firearm.
Please, take a moment and let that sink in. A dangerous person--a known dangerous person, can once again purchase firearms, because our Republican officials, along with the NRA, and other lobbyists, agreed it would be a good thing for the President to sign, by executive order.
The Right to Bear Arms
With the 2nd Amendment, we are assured of our right to bear arms. Does that right come at the cost of another human life? Does that mean we should have access to any type or number of firearms or ammunition? There are many questions left to be answered, many thoughts to be discussed on the topic. The truth of the matter is, one way or another, something must be done in the United States. We are losing family and friends at an alarming rate to senseless tragedies. As a nation, we must rise and stand for what we believe in, we must protect the lives of ourselves and those around us, and if it takes something as small as universal background checks to save even one life, then it’s worth it.
Mental Health Implications to Gun Violence
There are a few critical assumptions that always seem to follow the tragedies which are mass shootings.
- Mental illness causes gun violence.
- Psychiatric diagnosis predicts gun violence before it takes place.
- U.S. mass shootings teach us to fear mentally ill loners.
- Due to complex psych histories of shooters, gun control will not prevent another incident.
While all four of these statements hold true in particular instances, it is not so in every case. There is substantial evidence that suggests these mass shooters quite often battle mental health issues and are socially dysfunctional. Intense psychiatric care might prevent certain crimes, and these mass shootings force attention on the need to invest in mental health networks, or heightened state laws regarding gun access.
On the same hand, reports suggest these obvious assumptions about mass shooters, is rife with incorrect assumptions, especially when posed against both current and past statements that address guns, violence, and mental illness in a wider scope. On the surface, the idea that mental illness is a cause of gun violence is nothing more than a stereotype of a wildly diverse population of individuals who are diagnosed with a mental illness, and it oversimplifies the links between mental illness and violence.
Perceptions of mental illness that develop in relation to mass shootings, quite often mirror bigger issues that are masked when mass shootings are forced to be a stand in for all crimes committed with a gun. What happens next is the term “mentally ill” is no longer a medical diagnosis, but rather, a sign of a violent threat.
None of this should suggest that researchers know nothing when it comes to gun violence and other predictive factors. There are credible studies which have linked risk factors which correlate with gun violence more than mental illness. Both alcohol and drug use increase the propensity of violent crime among those with no medical history of mental illness.
Where Do We Stand as a Nation?
The saying, "United We Stand, Divided We Fall," means nothing if we as a nation cannot come together to find a way to reduce lives lost due to gun violence. From universal background checks to mental health care without prejudice, something must be done. There are so many cliches that work for this, but we don't need cliches, we need action. We need our government representatives to stand up to the NRA and other lobbyist groups, we the people need to stand with each other and not against, we need to find a way to remain well within our 2nd Amendment rights while dealing with the fact that we have, as a whole, the most lax gun control laws in the free world, and the highest rate of death due to firearms. It's a title we shouldn't be proud of.
- Gun Violence Archive http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/
- CDC National Center for Health Statistics https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/suicide.htm
- Huffington Post - 40 Percent of Americans Know Someone Who Was Killed With a Gun http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/americans-know-gun-violence-victims_us_56169834e4b0e66ad4c6bd2b
- BMJ Journal http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/4/9/e005628
- Lankford, A - Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26822013
- PLOS ONE - Contagion in Mass Killings and School Shootings http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0117259
- Pew Research Center - A minority of Americans owns guns, but just how many are unclear. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/04/a-minority-of-americans-own-guns-but-just-how-many-is-unclear/
- CNN - Gabby and Mark: The new Brady's of gun control http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/12/us/kelly-giffords-brady-gun-control/index.html
- Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence Senior Attorney Lindsay Nichols Testimony https://waysandmeans.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/20170207SS-Testimony-Nichols.pdf
- Candy Crowley CNN Transcripts Interview with NRA President Keene, State of the Union http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1301/13/sotu.01.html