Guns And Mass Shootings
By Hugh Curran
23 October, 2015
Another mass shooting has taken place, this one in a quiet college town in Oregon. It is difficult to fathom these massacres and the psychology behind them but whatever the reason Americans seem to become more and more numbed. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to comprehend the insistence of the gun lobby that gun violence and mass shootings are unrelated to the proliferation of guns. Yet the level of gun violence in the U.S. exceeds all other developed nations by a huge factor. One example is our near neighbor, Canada, which has significant differences from the U.S. in terms of gun violence. The U.S. has at least five times more gun violence than Canada (StatisticsCanada reports the U.S has 7 times more) . The fact that assault rifles, automatic weapons and sawed off shotguns are banned in Canada would indicate a strong correlation between the proliferation of firearms and lower gun casualties. Yet the gun lobby in the U.S. will not countenance a ban on assault-style weapons because they believe it infringes on 2nd amendment rights, an amendment which originally referred to a "well armed militia" that possessed slow-loading muskets.
It should be noted that, on average,in Canada there are 30 guns per 100 residents whereas in the U.S. there are almost 100 guns per 100 residents. It seems to represent a limited vision to not make a distinction between long guns for hunting purposes and assault-style guns. In some states, such as Vermont legislative action has been taken to avoid a proliferation of guns. In Burlington semi-automatic assault weapons and large capacity magazines have been banned. The State of Vermont does not allow guns to be carried in state parks, state institutions, court-houses, schools or school grounds. In addition, all firearm sales have to be recorded whereas nationally over 40% of gun sales are by unlicensed private dealers who do not do background checks.Â A New York study in 2012 found that 62% of private gun dealers sell to prohibited individuals and do not require background checks.
Although correlations are not necessarily causative, yet they are highly indicative. Contrary to the gun lobby the correlation of high levels of gun ownership is deeply significant. For instance, Australia's 19 year ban on semi-automatic and rapid fire guns involved a buy-back plan of more than 600,000 such guns, resulting in a dramatic drop in mass killings. The legislation was enacted after a massacre of 35 people by one man some years ago.Â As a result of this law being enacted mass killings and homicides in Australia plummeted to .11 per 100,000 in comparison to the 3.55 per 100,000 in the U.S. and total gun deaths Â were .84 compared to 10.64 in the U.S. Although we cannot say that the correlation between such a drop in killing is solely due to assault guns being banned, the correlation is so dramatic that causation is highly likely.
There is an old cliche among some gun supporters (ie if guns are not available then people will use other weapons such as knives or fists). Many shootings are spontaneous and the result of anger or depression. But those involving massacres are planned and rapid fire guns are most often used. Knives and fists cannot cause the enormous damage that assault weapons do.Â England, which is now home to a very diverse population, has significantly less gun violence involving police, than does the U.S. The majority of police in Britain do not carry guns and those who do carry them seldom fire them. In contrast, in the U.S., over 400 people were killed by police in 2012 while in Britain none were killed. The simple reason is that most people in Britain have little access to guns and police do not use guns except in extreme cases. This is not to point a finger at police in the U.S., who, all too often have very difficult situations to deal with. The issue of gun proliferation has more to do with systemic causes of violence where attitudes among an outspoken minority of gun owners has resulted in an obsessively narrow view of gun ownership. There seems to be a fear (due to disinformation from such organizations as NRA) that even the most modest efforts at gun control will result in losing rights to own guns. This is ludicrous and indicates an unwillingness to distinguish between guns used for hunting and those kept in the home compared to assault-style weapons or other rapid fire weapons. I should also point out that a considerable number of police are in favor of more control over assault-style weapons.Â When one refers to the website of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who tried to pass very modest gun control legislation in 2013, a list of nine national police organizations is included, as well as fourteen health organizations (eg Nursing, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine) and fifty national religious organizations, all advocating for some measure of gun control.
Those who worked hardest to defeat the Feinstein gun control legislation were lobbyists from the NRA. According towww.factcheck.org they publicized false claims as fact: "Online ads from the NRA wrongly claimed that 80% of police say background checks will have no effect on violent crime. [But factcheck noted that] the survey cited in the ads by the NRA says nothing of the sort". The survey only reached a very small number of police and the questions were so poorly worded that it confused those taking the survey.
Just as guns continue to proliferate, so do extremists among pro-gun supporters who will publicize deliberately poor studies to make their case. Such disinformation is meant to disparage any correlation between the widespread availability of guns and gun violence. Even a quick glance at articles available on the internet finds a disheartening amount of misinformation whose purpose is to confuse the public with discredited studies. For instance: a shooting sports website states emphatically in "Ten Myths about Gun Control" that "there is no compelling evidence that more guns equals more crime or that gun control reduces violent crime". Yet there are numerous studies showing the very contrary. It seems that these kinds of websites are places where "facts" are manufactured for the express purpose of obscuring truth by way of simplistic assertions. The old adage that "figures don't lie but liars figure" ought to be kept in mind where the intent is to select biased studies to prove one's point.
Hugh Curran teaches in Peace & Reconciliation Studies at the University of Maine, Orono.