The United States has a serious problem. In the wake of yet another school shooting, one might think the problem is gun violence, and it is – to a degree. The bigger problem, however, is the United States’ collective response to gun violence. Firearm related deaths occur at a significantly higher rate in the U.S. than in almost every other country, yet politicians and the general public respond to mass shootings with cold, ignorant indifference. People talk like extreme levels of gun violence is inevitable, and that mass shootings are an inescapable tragedy like car accidents or cancer.
GOP presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, responded to the most recent school shooting by saying “stuff happens,” and in the event of a crisis “do[ing] something” isn’t “necessarily the right thing to do.”1 A presidential candidate’s advice regarding U.S. gun violence is essentially, shit happens, and I don’t think we should really do anything about it. Another GOP hopeful, Donald Trump, made similar statements, and explained he would not try to prevent gun violence as president because, “no matter what you do you will have problems and that’s the way the world goes.”2 Such sentiments are unfortunately very common in U.S. political discourse, and are not only callus, but fail to reflect reality.
National and international data show the United States has an extremely high rate of gun violence, and other gun related deaths, relative to almost all other countries. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. has the “highest homicide-by-firearm rate” in the western-industrialized world.3 Yet U.S. politicians and citizens do not seem bothered by such data. To be fair, most people are not social science/statistics geeks like I am, so perhaps politicians and the average citizen will be moved by less abstract information? No, sadly that is not the case.
Since the Sandy Hook shooting in December, 2012, there have been 146 school shootings in the U.S. On average, that works out to be approximately one per week.4 The most recent school shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, marks the 264th mass shooing (not limited to schools) just 274 days into 2015.5 According to Gun Violence Archive, there have been over 10,000 deaths via firearm in the United States so far in 2015.6 And according to Politifact, there have been approximately 1.4 million firearm related deaths in the U.S. between 1968 and 2011. To put that into perspective, a total of 1.2 million U.S. residents have died in U.S. wars; that includes every war from the Revolutionary War to the War in Iraq.7
Yet despite a ridiculously high body count, the U.S. fails to do anything to prevent, or even lessen, gun violence. In fact, regular mass shootings followed by little concern and zero preventative safety measures has literally become a punch line. After every U.S. mass shooting, The Onion, a satirical online news paper, publishes the same headline, ” ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”8 And that accurately sums up the U.S. response to mass shootings and other gun violence.
In addition to the anomalous nature of U.S. gun violence statistics, which demonstrates mass shootings and other high levels of firearm related deaths are preventable, many U.S. allies, such as Great Britain and Australia, have successfully implemented gun control measures which greatly reduced the number of gun related deaths. For instance, 60 percent of homicides committed each year in the United States are with a firearm, while only 10 percent of homicides in the U.K. are committed with a firearm each year.9
Australia is perhaps even a better case study, as they too had extremely high rates of gun violence and gun related deaths in the 1980s and 90s. However, after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in which 35 people were killed and 23 wounded, Australia decided it was time to implement serious gun control. Within weeks the then-conservative government drafted and passed laws to restrict access to guns by making the import of automatic, semiautomatic, and pump-action shotguns illegal. They also increased the amount and severity of punishments for breaking existing and new gun laws. Over the next five years the Australian government bought and destroyed over 700,000 guns from it’s residents – one of the largest government gun buy-back programs in history. What happened? Did the government then take away other supposed liberties from its citizens? Did Australians suddenly find themselves living under a totalitarian regime with no way to fight back? No. Instead, they saw an immediate decline in firearm related deaths, including firearm homicides and firearm suicides.10
These are countries the U.S. conceptualize as “like us,” considers to be good role models, and they serve as evidence that weekly school shootings, near-daily mass shootings, and thousands of gun deaths per year are preventable. Australia, especially, should be an inspiration and a model to the United States. Unfortunately, we, as a country, have proven time and time again that the bodies of dead children, dead students, dead movie-goers, dead domestic violence victims, and dead suicide victims will not move us. I believe the U.S. position on guns is firm; guns and the profits made from them are vastly more important than people.
- Martin, Jonathan, and Flegenheimer, Matt, “Jeb Bush Is Criticized for Saying ‘Stuff Happens’ in Reaction to Shootings,” New York Times, Oct. 1, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/10/02/jeb-bush-is-criticized-for-saying-stuff-happens-in-reaction-to-oregon-shooting/.
- Atkin, Emily, “Trump: Mass Shootings Are Inevitable, And The People Who Commit Them Are ‘Geniuses’,” Think Progress, Oct. 4, 2015, http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/10/04/3708887/trump-mass-shootings/.
- Masters, Johnathan, “U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons,” Council on Foreign Relations, June 24, 2015 http://www.cfr.org/society-and-culture/us-gun-policy-global-comparisons/p29735.
- “School Shootings in America Since Sandy Hook,” Everytown For Gun Safety, Oct. 1, 2015, http://everytown.org/article/schoolshootings/.
- Dickinson, Tim, “Oregon Tragedy 264th Mass Shooting of the Year,” Rolling Stone, Oct. 1, 2015, http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/oregon-tragedy-264th-mass-shooting-of-the-year-20151001.
- Home, Gun Violence Archive, Oct. 4, 2015, http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/.
- Jacobson, Louis, “PBS commentator Mark Shields says more killed by guns since ’68 than in all U.S. wars,” PolitiFact, Jan. 18, 2013, http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2013/jan/18/mark-shields/pbs-commentator-mark-shields-says-more-killed-guns/.
- ” ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens,” The Onion, Oct. 1, 2015, http://www.theonion.com/article/no-way-prevent-says-only-nation-where-regularly-ha-51444.
” ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens,” The Onion, May 27, 2014, http://www.theonion.com/article/no-way-to-prevent-this-says-only-nation-where-this-36131.
- “Oregon shooting: Statistics behind ‘routine’ US gun violence,” BBC, Oct. 2, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-34424385.
- Weller, Chirs, and Baer, Drake, “Australia’s success in curbing gun violence could be a model for the world,” Tech Insider, Aug. 26, 2015, http://www.techinsider.io/australia-gun-reform-provides-an-example-for-the-us-2015-8.