And About Those Guns

So here we go again.

Massacres of innocent people in schools, hospitals, grocery stores, churches, and synagogues– or anywhere else for that matter– should not happen. Period. Yet in the United States they are increasing. In no other country on this planet are there countries where massacres of innocent people happen like they do here. With the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings happening two weeks apart, you would think this might have a chance of waking us up. A couple of days later came Tulsa, which  is described as “not as bad as it could have been” because the police arrived before the shooter was able to kill more than four people including his doctor, an orthopedic surgeon, because of lingering back pain following his back operation performed a couple of weeks before. These events involved what the FBI calls “active shooter incidents.” They have increased every year from three incidents in 2000 when they first started being counted by the FBI to 40 in 2020 and 61 last year, more than one per week. Will these recent “active shooter incidents” make a difference in getting stronger gun laws?

This year so far there have also been 231 mass shootings (where four or more people have been murdered or injured not counting the shooter), which rarely make it into the front pages of newspapers. As of June 2, 2022, mass shooting this year have resulted in over 1,200 killed or injured.

Then there are “routine” deaths by guns.  The last official statistic for gun deaths in the U.S. published by the CDC for 2020 was over 45 thousand gun deaths  that year, including over 24 thousand suicides (54%)— and over 19 thousand (43%) murders. They have gone up every year since the early 2000s. Deaths by guns are 25% higher than they were five years earlier and 43% higher than a decade earlier.

What is going on here?

One reason that these “routine” deaths by guns have not gotten more attention by the American public is that except for active shooter incidents, typical mass shootings and gun deaths often tend to involve poor people and people of color. Overall, according to KFF “State Health Facts,” the gun death rate in the U.S. in 2020 was 13.6 per 100,000 people. For Whites it was 11.6. For Blacks 31.8, about three times as high. The majority are young, African American men living in poverty. Considering income, the rates are likely to be even higher for poor people. “Hey,” the typical response is likely to be, “if those people want to kill each other, so what.” 

Now the skeptics will argue that since active shooter, mass killings like those in Uvalde and Buffalo and Tulsa are relatively rare, the bleeding heart, crybabies (like me) are trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill. In the U.S. while our gun death rate is increasing, it is still “only” 13.6 per 100,000 people. We rank 20th in the world in this notorious category behind El Salvador (39.2 gun deaths per thousand, the world’s highest), along with several Latin, Central American and undeveloped countries, which average over 20 gun deaths per 100.000. So what’s the big deal?

Yes, we are better off than many Latin American and undeveloped countries in gun death rates, but compared to other developed nations, we don’t come close. France had 2.7 gun deaths per 100,000 in 2020, Canada was 2.1, Australia was 1.0, Germany 0.9, Spain 0.6, and the U.K. 0.2. Japan was less than 0.1.

OK, readers. Below is a list of 10 countries. All ten are advanced, wealthy nations. All have similar demographics. All have strict gun laws and regulations, except one. Guess which country  might be the one without strict gun laws. The statistic is the number of gun deaths per 100,000 population.

  1. 0.88
  2. 1.40
  3. 1.94
  4. 0.91
  5. 13.6
  6. 1.04
  7. 0.02
  8. 1.24
  9. 1.48
  10. 0.57

You got it. Number Five: The United States of America. The average of the nine countries not including the U.S is 1.05 gun deaths per 100,000 people per year. We are 13.6. (Note that various sources list our gun death rate slightly differently, but all range from 12.5-13.6 gun deaths per 100,000.) Is there any further evidence required to suggest that perhaps, just perhaps gun regulations might have something to do with it? Check out Wikipedia: “Overview of Gun Laws by Nation.” Laws tend to vary by country, and the comparisons are complex and tricky. But still, it is crystal clear that among developed nations we are an outlier. The answer to reducing gun death rates is tougher gun regulation.

(The countries in order are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the United States, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and Spain.)

By the way, did you know that we now have over 400 million guns in the U.S., an increase of over  100 million from what it was in the Obama years? Check out “Gun Facts” from the 2021 “National Gun Survey.” There is also a lot of information on line from Gallup polls and from Pew Research. While the percentage of adults who own guns has remained fairly steady over the years at around 32% of all adults (about five guns per gun owner), the number of guns per owner is increasing. 

 President Biden made an impassioned plea yesterday for banning assault weapons, increasing the age for buying guns, background checks, and red flag laws.  Few believe that any of these will pass. I would like to see much more: enforced buybacks of all assault weapons and most handguns, registration of all ammunition, making “ghost guns” illegal and more mental health services. This is what Canada is doing, and their gun death rate is minuscule compared to ours.

I would allow for people to own guns suitable for hunting but would require gun registration and gun ownership licenses like we require in order to drive a car, and no, I do not interpret Article Two of the U.S. Constitution as an absolute right for any American to own a gun.

So why are we in the mess we are in today? You could ask the same question regarding climate change, abortion, racism and other controversial issues—all of which have been politicized. Historians have pointed out that we are more divided now than at any time since the Civil War. 

David Brooks made an insightful comment on the Friday News Hour this week. He lamented that we are in a totally divided country where Democrats and Republicans agree on very little. More important we have become tribal. To be part of the tribe you have to stay with the program. The Republican program supports gun freedom and minimal gun  regulations. To object would jeopardize ones place in the tribe. And in this instance the tribe is financed in part by the NRA. For a Republican politician to go against the NRA would mean a big loss of  campaign money. For someone trying to get elected or reelected, it would mean suicide.  And given the filibuster, there is slim chance of Democrats finding enough Republicans to get a strong gun safety law passed. It all goes back to the system, and our system is broken.

 And the stalemate is not just about guns. It is about abortion, vaccines, masks, books, climate change, “black  lives matter,” immigration, taxes, and a host of other social/cultural issues. This is the world we find ourselves in today, which keeps our country from doing the right thing to reduce gun violence and tackling the problems that could drastically affect our lives. Someday perhaps we will learn and will be able to work together, but if we don’t, the future looks bleak.








3 thoughts on “And About Those Guns

  1. The cost of gun violence to society goes beyond lives lost. Many people survive a gun shot wound, often with lifetime disabilities. The medical costs are very high, and are generally born by the taxpayer through bad debt (from the uninsured) or Medicaid. I was inspired by the stories I heard when I served on homicide grand jury, and authored two Urban Institute briefs on this topic, if you would like to take a look: and

  2. Two points. First, as argued clearly by Sam Harris and Atlantic writer Graeme Wood, guns and gun laws are not the problems or solutions to the gun violence in the US. You can listen here
    Secondly, and more importantly, mass shootings are a social contagion, and only the media can reduce mass shootings. They must not glorify the shooter by giving kudos through names, photographs and continual coverage of the event – including the growing tally of injured or dead. The media’s current approach of reporting mass school shootings announces to potential shooters: “you can not only become a household name and receive a reputation as a mass murderer, but you can also achieve infamy through notoriety.” For those who carry out mass shootings, the visibility created by media coverage provides a vehicle for them to obtain the notoriety they crave. This was made clear some 15 years ago by US Forensic Psychiatrist Park Dietz (and since documented innumerable times) who warned that the media were creating anti-heroes. See his Youtube interview Dec 2012 “Six simple steps every media outlet could follow to prevent copycat mass murders. This footage was aired after an incident in Germany in 2009. The speaker is Dr. Park Deitz, Forensic Psychologist of the Treat Assessment Group. “

  3. Another incisive one, Joe, with an impressive if, to me, bewildering, set of statistics from Embry.

    The refrain from Peter, Paul and Mary’s song “where have all the flowers gone”? comes forcefully to mind ….. “when will they ever learn….. when will they ever learn.

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