This past weekend was yet another in a growing list of days where we’ve witnessed another mass shooting in the United States.
On Saturday afternoon, a 21 year old white male drove several hours across the state of Texas to a Walmart in El Paso. Upon arriving at the store, he brought a high powered rifle with him into the store and opened fire. He murdered 22 people in the mass shooting, and injured over two dozen others. The case is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism since it appears that the shooter chose the general location of the shooting because he wanted to intimidate or murder people who he thought were immigrants or Latino. The shooter posted his white-supremacist “manifesto” on social media just 20 minutes before the shooting. At least eight Mexican nationals were among the deceased victims. It is the seventh deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Only hours after the shooting in El Paso, another mass shooting happened, this time in Dayton, Ohio in the early morning hours on Sunday. The shooter, another white male ,aged 24, opened fire outside a popular Dayton bar. The shooter was wielding a “high capacity rifle with 100-round drum magazines.” He fired “41 shots in less than 30 seconds” before police shot him down. He was still able to murder nine people and injure 31 others before he was stopped by police.
Overall, there have been more mass shootings (defined as four or more people being shot) in the United States so far in 2019 (255 as of August 5th) than there have been days in the year (217). Five high profile shootings, that have resulted in over 100 people being shot, have occurred in just the past eight days alone. 2019 looks like it may become the second time in U.S. history where there have been more mass shootings than there have been days in a year (2016 was the other which saw 382 mass shootings). As of Monday, over 8,796 people have died at the hands of a gun, accidental or otherwise, in the United States.
Why Does this Keep Happening Here?
In the aftermath of these mass shootings, we’ve seen a rehashing of old talking points by many in the Republican Party, including the President of the United States, blaming “video games” and “mental health” for the shootings, not guns. The data shows that’s not what’s leading to these mass shootings.
The Video Game Lie
Matthew Yglesias of Vox.com wrote about some of the prominent studies that have been done to see if there is a link between video games and violent crime. Here’s what those studies found.
- A study that looked at “the volume of sales of violent video games in a week among the top 50 best-selling video games from 2005-2008” and related it to “a marker for violent behaviors — weekly aggregate violent crime incidents from the National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS)” found that violent crime went down, not up ” when a very popular violent video game” came out. This matched well with earlier research that found this was true of violent movies and violent crime.
- Another study found that “wide availability of video games in general reduces crime.”
In addition to the studies detailed in Yglesias’s article, a 2014 study by researchers at Villanova and Rutgers Universities found a similar correlation in their research between the release of shooting games and a drop in overall crime, including homicides, in the United States.
What these studies show is that is there is no correlation between violent crime, especially mass shootings, and video games. If anything, these studies suggest that video games may actually help reduce crime, including violent crime, because they keep people pre-occupied, and can be a way for people to channel and release built-up anger or frustrations.
Our firearm homicide rate well exceeds Japan too, a country that spends more money per 100,000 individuals on video games than anywhere else in the world. The problem is not video games.
Mental Health is Not to Blame Either
Mental health issues are not a major contributor to the increase we are seeing in mass shootings either.
About 1 in 5 American adults were living with a mental illness in 2017. 4.5% of all U.S. adults experienced a serious mental illness that same year. Both of those correlate to millions of Americans living with some degree of mental illness. Almost none of them went on to commit a mass shooting, or violent act of any kind.
Dylan Matthews of Vox.com looked at several studies around mental health and violent crime specifically. Here’s what he found in his research:
- Studies have found that those living with mental illness are much more likely to be a victim of gun violence “than a perpetrator” of it.
- Serious mental illness was estimated to be a cause in just 4% of violent crime, but a later study by the same researcher found that people with serious mental illness, who committed violent acts, were much more likely to do so due to ” social factors like substance abuse, childhood maltreatment, and living in an adverse or violent social environment (like being homeless or living in a very high-crime area of an inner city).” Those without these risk factors actually had “a lower risk of violence than the general population.”
Matthews also looked at studies that looked into mass shooters or mass murders specifically.
- One study from 2015 found that only 22% of mass murders or mass shooters were estimated to have been suffering from some form of mental illness.
- Research into those who’ve shot four or more people since 1966 found that just 14.8% ” had been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder. And even for them, it’s hard to say with any certainty that mental illness caused or contributed to their shooting.”
Like the data on video games, mental illness is not a primary contributor or cause of most mass shootings, or the vast majority of violent crime either. Stigmatizing people with mental illness, especially by associating them with these horrific acts, is wholly inappropriate and dangerous.
Guns are the Problem
The United States has 120.5 civilian-owned firearms for every 100 people that live in this country. That’s over double the second place country, Yemen (52.84), a country that is currently in the midst of a civil war. Put another way, we make up “less than 5% of the world’s population, but own 45% of the world’s privately-owned firearms.”
Our country has the highest firearm homicide rate per one million people in the world (29.7), nearly four times as high as the second place country (Switzerland at 7.7). Studies have also found that states that have more guns have seen “higher gun murder rates than states with lower gun ownership rates.”
Several studies have also found a consistent link between an increase in the firearm homicide rate, and higher gun ownership rates.
When it comes to mass shootings in the United States, over 75% of the guns used in those shootings between 1982 and 2012 were purchased legally too.
The problem is guns and the laws (or lack thereof) that we have in place.
What can we do to change things?
There are several steps we can take, both at a state level, and a national level, to address our epidemic of gun violence.
A) Background Checks: The first basic step we can take is to prohibit the transfer or sale of firearms unless and until the person acquiring that firearm has passed a basic background check. Right now, millions of guns are sold by unlicensed sellers online, at gun shows, or at other places, without a background check being conducted on the individual purchasing the firearm. This loophole is often abused by those who are otherwise prohibited, by law, from possessing or owning a firearm. Requiring people to clear this basic step before obtaining and owning a firearm, when coupled with requiring dealers to keep better/more detailed records regarding their gun sales, will help make it much more difficult for those looking to commit crimes from being able to acquire a firearm. If done right, it will not impose any kind of undue burden on law-abiding citizens either. It wouldn’t prevent every mass shooting on its own, but it’s just one step we can take to make sure those breaking the law cannot easily acquire a firearm. This proposal has had mass, bi-partisan public support in polling
B) Red Flag Laws: Another way we can take action is to pass red flag laws that are designed to prevent people in crisis from temporarily being able to purchase a firearm. “About half of those who commit mass shootings show warning signs that they were a threat to themselves or others, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for stricter measures to reduce gun violence.” Allowing courts to intervene, when people are showing imminent signs of engaging in violence, could help prevent several shootings before they happen. Any law like this would have to meet a high evidentiary standard (such as clear and convincing evidence) to avoid improperly infringing upon someone’s right to own a firearm. However, it could be a really effective tool to intervening before something bad happens. Recent polling found 85% of the public in support of such a proposal.
C) Reinstating an Assault Weapons Ban at the State and Federal Level: It used to be under federal law that manufacturing, possessing, or transferring a semiautomatic rifle for civilian use was illegal. That ban correlated to a drop in those weapons being used in crimes between when it was enacted in 1994, and when the law expired in 2004. Reinstating a ban on these types of weapons, and seeking to buy back those currently in circulation, would help take one of the primary weapons of choice in mass shootings off of the streets. There’s no reason why anyone should own a weapon who’s sole design was for use in a war zone.
D) Prohibiting the sale or ownership of certain kinds of weapons attachments and ammunition: Another way we can address our gun violence issue is by passing laws prohibiting the manufacture, possession, or transfer of certain kinds of ammunition and weapons attachments to the public that are specifically dangerous. No one should have access to armor piercing bullets, or other kinds of ammunition that are unusually dangerous in their design. In addition to that, no person in the public needs to have access to a silencer, or high capacity magazines, attachments which were designed to enhance a person’s ability to kill as many people with a gun as possible in as efficient of a manner as possible. The high capacity magazines, in particular, have been used by several mass shooters, including the Dayton shooter this past weekend.
E) Requiring Gun Owners to Acquire a License to Own a Firearm: Many gun deaths unrelated to mass shootings occur as a result of accidental deaths. Requiring people to go through even the most basic of requirements, such as getting firearm training before being able to acquire a license, have been shown to reduce suicides and homicides by firearm.
These are just some of the steps we can take to reduce gun violence and try to prevent another one of these tragedies from happening again. They may not prevent all of these shootings on their own, but they would go a long way towards greatly reducing the risk of them happening.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives passed bi-partisan legislation that included many of these reforms earlier this year. That legislation is currently being blocked by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the GOP-controlled senate.
Democrats at the state level, such as State Representative Chris Taylor (Madison) and Governor Tony Evers, have called on our state legislature to act as well. Many of these reforms are things we can do in our state RIGHT NOW, even in Congress fails to act once again. It appears those efforts may be blocked by GOP State Assembly Leader, Robin Vos, who tried to fear-monger about potential red flag laws when he was asked about taking action on guns earlier this week. There are no more excuses. We must act now.
A Note on the Rise of White Supremacy
We must also acknowledge that there is a growing threat of terror coming from within: the rise of far-right white supremacists groups. The shooter in El Paso was inspired, in part, by the hateful, racist, rhetoric of our President, GOP lawmakers, and what is widespread in conservative media from Brietbart to Fox News. Individuals motivated by this ideology are becoming a growing threat.
This isn’t the only instance where a white supremacist has acted out through a mass shooting recently either. The Gilroy, California shooter just last week is now being investigated for links to these kinds of groups and their ideology. The mass murderer who killed 11 people at the Poway Synagogue in Pittsburgh last year, made many of the same remarks in an online posting that the El Paso shooter did. FBI Director, Christopher Wray, said in testimony to Congress that over 100 domestic terrorist arrests have been made already this year involving people linked with these groups. He warned more acts like this may be on there way.
We need to go after these groups and call out those who are working to encourage them. If we don’t take these steps now, things may get a hell of a lot worse.
Contact your state legislators and federal lawmakers today. It’s time we end this madness. Encourage them to take stand against white supremacy, and those who are working to inspire them. Ask them to act, not only on gun control, but to take action against these white supremacist terror groups as well.
I also encourage you to donate to, or volunteer for Moms Demand Action, and to donate and volunteer for Everytown, two groups which are dedicated to getting common sense gun control legislation passed. Now is the time to act!