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Here We Go Again

Here we go again.

Another scene of bloody carnage. Another horrific act of what would have been unthinkable violence only a decade ago, but violence which has become all too common in recent years. So common, in fact, that two acts of violence that are among the worst in American history have occurred within the last six weeks. While the reason that mass shootings have become so catastrophically common in the U.S. can be debated, and the likelihood of becoming a victim of one may still be statistically smaller than being killed in a car crash, what cannot be debated and what is not statistically small is the likelihood of being injured or killed by a firearm in this country.

THE VULNERABLE

Why is this? Study after study demonstrates the correlation between the prevalence of guns in this country and our high number of firearm deaths versus other countries’ low number of guns and their corresponding lower number of firearm deaths. There are more than 350 million guns in circulation in the United States, approximately 113 guns for every 100 people. To put these numbers in terms of risk: 1.7 million children live with unlocked, loaded guns, or 1 out of 3 homes with kids have guns. Among children, the majority (89%) of unintentional shooting deaths occur in the home. Most of these deaths occur when children are playing with a loaded gun in their parent’s absence. In 2014, 2,549 children (age 0-19 years) died by gunshot and an additional 13,576 were injured (these numbers include homicide by firearm).

Although children are the most vulnerable members of society, they are not the only demographic to be especially at risk in a country where firearms outnumber citizens. Those with mental health issues are also extremely vulnerable. Suicide rates are much higher in states with higher rates of gun ownership, even after controlling for differences among states for poverty, urbanization, unemployment, mental illness, and alcohol or drug abuse. Furthermore, suicide attempts with a firearm are much more deadly (90% of people die) than attempts by other methods (34% of people who jump die, and 2% of people who poison themselves with drugs die). States implementing universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods prior to the purchase of a firearm show lower rates of suicides than states without this legislation.

The most recent mass shooting, the massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, 2017, illustrates the devastating nexus between domestic violence and firearms. Some background statistics are helpful: an abusive partner’s access to a firearm in the home makes it 8 times more likely that the domestic violence will turn deadly. But domestic violence is not limited to the home, or to the abuser’s partner. Of the recent mass shootings, 58% involved the killing of a current or former partner or family member. The Sutherland Springs, Texas slaughter fit this pattern: the killer had been convicted previously of domestic violence toward his wife and of child abuse toward his step-son, and his wife’s grandmother was one of the 26 people he shot and killed inside the First Baptist Church.

THROWBACK: 1994

Where does this leave us? Sensible legislation upon which all parts of the political spectrum can agree should be passed. This includes universal background checks, mandatory waiting periods, and the banning of the manufacture, sale and importation of automatic and semi-automatic weapons for non-military use. The Texas, Las Vegas, Newtown, Aurora and San Bernardino mass shooters all used the same weapon: an AR-15 rifle, which is the weapon of choice in most mass shootings. The shooter in the Pulse Nightclub mass shooting used a Sig Sauer MCX, which is similar to the AR-15. The AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle that can easily be converted to a fully automatic weapon, but is capable of extreme damage as it is. The AR-15 was banned from 1994-2004, but the legislation was allowed to expire. Since then, a cult-like following has developed around the military-style weapon, making a new ban very difficult to pass. But restrictions on the sale of these weapons—and the ammunition for them—might be a good first step toward stopping the carnage.

Categories: Firearms, gun violence
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