Why do Americans keep shooting each other to death?

October 1, 2015 – Anna Mehler Paperny, Global News

How do you measure America’s gun violence epidemic?

By number of shootings? (300 mass shootings in the past 12 months; 264 so far this year, according to gunviolencearchive.org.)

By the number of people killed? (339 in mass shootings in the past 12 months; 9,938 total gun deaths so far in 2015.)

By number of times the public horror in the wake of gun-fuelled murders fails to produce the political will do anything about it?

At least nine people were killed and 7 others injured after a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon Thursday.

The shooter was killed exchanging gunfire with police, officers say.

That comes barely a month and a half after a man killed two former colleagueswhile they were filming a live TV hit in Virginia.

And four months after nine people were shot to death in their South Carolina church by a self-declared white supremacist.

U.S. President Barack Obama exhibited uncharacteristic frustration after the Charleston shootings. He’s had to give similar statements in the aftermath of similarly bloody events over the course of his presidency.

 

Obama was similarly strident on Thursday.

“We’ve become numb to this,” he said.

“This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.”

Mass shootings have become a distinctly American phenomenon: Nowhere else in the world are people gunned down en masse, in public, at anywhere near the same rate.

University of Alabama professor Adam Lankford compared mass shooting statistics across 171 countries between 1966 and 2012.

His findings were stark: “The U.S. was the number one, by a wide margin,” Lankford said in an interview Thursday.

The U.S. was also number one in firearm ownership, by a similarly wide margin.

America has about 5 per cent of the world’s population, but more than 30 per cent of its mass shootings, Lankford found.

And 62 per cent of mass shootings in school and workplace settings occurred in the U.S.

“As big as the problem is overall, it’s even bigger when you look at those specific contexts,” Lankford said.

He thinks that hints at a particularly American kind of mindset behind mass shootings.

“There’s a pressure to achieve the American dream, but not necessarily the social support to do so,” he said.

“And so there’s a sense that it’s not necessarily just what you have or what you don’t have that breeds discontent, it’s the gap between what you have and what you feel like you should have or are entitled to.”

Lankford’s research also dismisses a common argument against gun control as a way to crack down on gun violence: Many, including the National Rifle Association, point instead to the prevalence of mental illness among the perpetrators of some of the most bloody examples of gun violence.

But the U.S. doesn’t have sky-high rates of mental illness, compared to the rest of the world: It’s undoubtedly a critical public health issue, but it exists in Canada, in Europe, in Latin America and Asia and elsewhere.

“Most of these shooters are men, too, but we don’t say ‘Get rid of men,’” Lankford notes.

He argues the natural place to start in tackling American gun violence is in the number of guns Americans have — especially, he argues, because American mass shooters are significantly more likely to use multiple weapons in their attacks.

“If we could pass legislation that would even limit these attackers from having multiple weapons just down to having a single weapon, even that very minimal amount of progress, which wouldn’t prevent these attacks, would still, on average, reduce the number of fatalities significantly.”

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called for “sensible” gun control measures Thursday.

But advocates for tougher gun laws have been disappointed before — notably when20 six- and seven-year-old children were shot to death at their elementary school in 2012.

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