Tragedy happens everywhere, that comes to the surprise of no one. What may be surprising is that over one percent of all deaths in America come at the hands of firearms, per the National Research Council; shockingly, mass-shootings make up a small fraction of those deaths.
What constitutes a mass shooting? Depending on your source, the answer could be radically different. Mother Jones magazine cites the recent Las Vegas Massacre as the seventh mass shooting in the United States this year, while the mass shooting tracker database lists it as the 337th mass shooting of the year. What gives for the difference? In 2013, Congress defined a mass shooting as “a murder of three or more people.” The reported numbers of shooting mostly differ because some sources cite “three or more injuries, not deaths” as a mass-shooting. While there may be slight variations on this definition, the number of people killed never drops below three for anybody’s definition. The disturbing fact is that there have been more than 337 instances of three or murders of people in America so far this year, and that number only makes up a fraction of total gun-related deaths.
A CDC report in 2013 showed that there were 33,636 deaths in America related to firearms. Among those, a staggering 21,175 were suicides. The vast majority of deaths left from guns come from homicides, being 11,208 in number (CDC). Among those homicides, a minuscule 288 deaths came from mass shootings. If mass shootings aren’t the primary problem, why do they garner substantial media attention?
Media sensationalization is definitely partially to blame. While it would be nearly impossible to cover every one of the over 33,000 deaths, the media does a poor job at displaying the big picture of gun deaths. I have never once seen a news story about alarming amounts of suicide rates, but I see stories almost every day about mass shootings. No death from these events is unimportant, but if there is around-the-clock coverage for 288 yearly deaths, the other 33,348 deserve the same treatment.
It is no secret that the United States has a less-than-stellar history with gun violence. America houses only 4.4 percent of the globe’s population, but 42 percent of the world’s citizen-owned guns (UNDOC). America also has the highest gun death rate of any developed country by a gigantic margin (29.7 per one million people, Sweden is second with 7.7 per million). This phenomenon is not exclusive to the United States. Across the board, the more citizen-owned guns that a country has, the more deaths by firearms they also have (Tewksbury). The aforementioned Mother Jones database confirms that this is also the case with U.S. states; the states with the highest firearm-ownership levels are the ones with the most deaths from those firearms.
The United States greatly lacks gun control. In states that have regulatory measures to protect children from gun violence, all but one (Nevada) are in the bottom half of gun deaths (Martin Prosperity Institute).
The main problem with regulating guns in the United States is that supporters of gun ownership are so obsequious to organizations like the NRA and those that support it that they could never be convinced that regulation would ever reduce gun deaths.
Australia has something to say about that. In the 1990s, Australia was, like America now, in the midst of a huge gun control problem. Almost three people per 100,000 were dying due to gun-related suicides. To curb this Australia introduced a nationwide gun buyback program in 1996. This included limiting the purchase of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and later included regulations to magazine size, barrel length and caliber. After that law was passed, citizens were given time to sell their now-prohibited guns back to the national government. 640,000 prohibited guns were sold back, and 60,o00 were sold back voluntarily. In just one year, gun suicides per 100,000 residents fell to just one; today it sits barely above 0.5 (Kiely).
Despite another first-world country experiencing success so recently with their gun problem, many uncompromising individuals will always say “There is no way to prevent this.” There is a way to prevent this, it starts in small steps. I’m from a small town that definitely loves their hunting, and I know absolutely zero hunters who require 60 bullet clips and semi-automatic rifles to get the job done.
America has been riding the second amendment for 219 years, and I think it’s time we stop riding it so blindly. This one-sentence amendment was written by men who only knew firearms that could fire once per minute. Firearms in 2017 can shoot at more than 300 times that.
1.4 million people have met their end of the line due to firearms in America between 1968 and 2011. For the sake of them, the sake of the 59 dead from Las Vegas, and the sake of everyone in the future, the time to act is right now.