When we first collected much of this data, it was after the Aurora, Colo., shootings in July, and the air was thick with calls to avoid “politicizing” the tragedy. That is code, essentially, for “don’t talk about reforming our gun control laws.”
Since then, there have been more horrible, high-profile shootings. Jovan Belcher, a linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, took his girlfriend’s life and then his own. In Oregon, Jacob Tyler Roberts entered a mall holding a semi-automatic rifle and yelling “I am the shooter.” And, in Connecticut, at least 27 are dead – including 18 children – after a man opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation’s security measures.
Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. But that’s unacceptable.
What follows isn’t a policy agenda. It’s simply a set of facts – many of which complicate a search for easy answers – that should inform the discussion we desperately need to have.
1. Shooting sprees are not rare in the United States.
Mother Jones has tracked and mapped every shooting spree in the last three decades. “Since 1982, there have been at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii,” they found. In most cases, the killers had obtained the weapons legally.
2. Eleven of the 20 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States. In second place is Finland, with two.
3. Lots of guns don’t necessarily mean lots of shootings.
As David Lamp writes at Cato, “In Israel and Switzerland, for example, a license to possess guns is available on demand to every law-abiding adult, and guns are easily obtainable in both nations. Both countries also allow widespread carrying of concealed firearms, and yet, admits Dr. Arthur Kellerman, one of the foremost medical advocates of gun control, Switzerland and Israel ‘have rates of homicide that are low despite rates of home firearm ownership that are at least as high as those in the United States.’”
4. Of the 12 deadliest shootings in the United States, six have happened from 2007 onward.
5. America is an unusually violent country, but not as much as it used to be.
Kieran Healy, a sociologist at Duke University, in July made a graph of “deaths due to assault” in the United States and other developed countries. The United States is a clear outlier, with rates well above other countries.
As Healy writes, “The most striking features of the data are (1) how much more violent the U.S. is than other OECD countries (except possibly Estonia and Mexico, not shown here), and (2) the degree of change – and recently, decline – there has been in the U.S. time series considered by itself.”
6. The South is the most violent region in the United States.
Healy drilled further into the numbers and looked at deaths due to assault in different regions. Just as the United States is a clear outlier in the international context, the South is a clear outlier in the national context.
7. U.S. gun ownership is declining.
“For all the attention given to America’s culture of guns, ownership of firearms is at or near all-time lows,” political scientist Patrick Egan, of New York University, wrote in July.
8. States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.
Last year, economist Richard Florida dove deep into the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. Correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive.
9. Gun control, in general, has not been politically popular.
Since 1990, Gallup has been asking Americans whether they think gun control laws should be stricter. The answer, increasingly, is no.
“The percentage in favor of making the laws governing the sale of firearms ‘more strict’ fell from 78 percent in 1990 to 62 percent in 1995, and 51 percent in 2007,” Gallup reported after the Tucson, Ariz., shooting in 2011. “In the most recent reading, Gallup in 2010 found 44 percent in favor of stricter laws. In fact, in 2009 and again last year, the slight majority said gun laws should either remain the same or be made less strict.”
10. But particular policies to control guns often are.
An August CNN/ORC poll asked respondents whether they favor or oppose a number of specific policies to restrict gun ownership. Many policies, including banning the manufacture and possession of semi-automatic rifles, are popular. About 90 percent support background checks and no guns for felons or the mentally ill.
11. Shootings don’t tend to substantially affect views on gun control.
That, at least, is what the Pew Research Center found in a poll taken after the Colorado movie theater shooting that killed 12.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less