In the wake of the deadly shootings in El Paso and Dayton, it is likely that we will hear more of the same “thoughts and prayers” from our politicians. America seems to be resigned to this problem – that we will continue to see mass shootings and gun-related deaths. America ranks 10th in the world by firearm related deaths per capita, and 16th in the world if one excludes suicides. In either case, the only nations that America ranks below are mostly Latin American nations ridden with gang-related violence, such as Honduras or Venezuela.
In terms of gun ownership, many point to the fact that America has more guns than people – 1.2 guns per capita. But this is a misleading statistic. Only 30% of Americans own guns, and 3% of Americans own half of the guns in the United States – American gun ownership statistics are heavily distorted because of these “super-owners” who collect guns for recreational purposes. Without a doubt, Americans tend to own guns at a higher rate compared to most countries, but America isn’t completely overrun with guns.
Many blame society and the decline of the nuclear family. There’s a claim in right-leaning media that most mass shooters come from fatherless homes – a claim that is difficult to verify, but may be true. But this fails to explain why America, which has a divorce:marriage rate of 46%, suffers from far more shootings than the European Union, which has a divorce:marriage rate of 44%. Is it mental illness? America’s suicide rate is far lower than countries like Russia or South Korea, and is in fact comparable with that of Japan. Increased funding for mental illness services would likely help with the problem (along with a myriad of other problems) – nearly every mass shooter has some sort of mental illness – but increasing funding for mental illness will not single-handedly stop mass shootings. Many mental illnesses’ cannot simply be “cured”, and not every person with anxiety will go on to shoot up a school.
Banning “assault weapons” is a solution that the Democrats will immediately jump to. But this solution is not popular among the American public – only 40% of Americans support it. While mass shootings command the majority of media attention, handgun related homicides account for the overwhelming majority of gun-related homicides – and banning handguns would be a hideously unpopular and impossible to implement “solution”. This piece will not comment on the effectiveness of banning any type of gun – instead, it will examine the solutions that will not harm law-abiding citizens and instead prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.
Universal background checks are a start, and are supported by an overwhelming majority of the American people, but we need to go further. 50% of suicides in the US are committed via firearm – and while it is certainly true that many of these people would find another way to commit suicide, the reality is that suicide via firearm is the most “appealing” and “easy” way to commit suicide – it’s essentially instantenous. More alarmingly, 70% of teen suicides are committed via firearm – a number that could undoubtedly minimized if more homes followed safe practices for locking up firearms. America should take inspiration from Japan to minimize this problem – gun owners must buy government-approved gun safes, and these safes are regularly inspected by the police.
America could also take inspiration from countries such as Japan or Iceland on the process of buying a gun. In Iceland, for example, prospective gun owners take lessons on the physics and mechanics of firearms. In Japan, gun owners undergo mental evaluations and lessons on marksmanship and safe gun practices. These are measures that will have no impact on law-abiding gun owners, but will mitigate the threat of a mentally ill white-nationalistic nutjob to kill dozens. There is a definite cultural difference between the United States and Japan, but there is nothing wrong with ensuring that gun owners have a brain capable of making rational decisions.
Lastly, we need to change how we cover mass shooters. These people are human scum, yet mainstream media practically glorifies them – putting their name, motives, methods, history, etc, out for the entire world to see. “Suicide contagion” – where media coverage of a single suicide triggers others to commit suicide – is an entirely real phenonema. It’s not a stretch to assume that the same trend applies to mass shootings. A drug-addicted 21 year old with a history of social problems, and nothing to live for, is essentially getting the message from mainstream media that committing a mass shooting is the best way to get famous. We should encourage every major news anchor to sign onto the “No Notoriety” pledge to avoid this bizzare “mass shooting contagion”.
What’s clear is that the United States does have a problem – part mental and part gun. Blaming violent video games is not the solution. Congress must follow data-driven, publically supported measures to dramatically reduce the chance of guns falling into the wrong hands. The media needs to stop glorifying shooters. Until then, we can only continue to expect more of these events will happen.