The mass murder in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, coupled with a series of mass shootings in other venues, mostly workplaces, have been met with exclamations of “unimaginable,” “incredible, and “unfathomable.” Yet this reaction ignores the concentration of firearms in the nation, with nearly 90 guns for every 100 persons: an increase from about 200 million firearms in 1995 to about 300 million today. (1) The U.S. arsenal of firearms is the highest related to population in the world, with Yemen a distant second, at 55 per 100 persons. (2)
Roughly 85 people are killed every day by guns in the United States; (3) also, FBI statistics, year after year, show that about half of all homicides are committed by handguns and many more injured for every gun death.
Gary Younge links America’s high concentration of firearms and high level of gun deaths to the country’s high levels of inequality and poverty. This kind of linkage is not found in any other of the Western nations. (4)
Mother Jones identified and analyzed 60 mass shootings over the last 30 years — a mass shooting is defined as four or more people killed (not including the shooter) in a single incident. Mother Jones found an average of two mass shootings a year, except that 23 of the 60 mass shootings have occurred since 2006: an average of almost four a year. (5)
Yet, despite the high level of firearms violence, since 2009, 99 laws have been passed across 37 states making guns easier to own, easier to carry in public and harder for the government to track. Eight states now permit firearms in bars. Law-abiding Missourians can carry a gun while intoxicated. Concealed weapons are allowed in schools in Kansas and churches in Louisiana. Virginia repealed a law requiring handgun vendors to submit order records and ordered the destruction of all existing records. (6)
Gun rights advocates claim that arming more civilians might have stopped some mass shootings. Colorado has issued nearly 120,000 concealed-carry permits since 2003 and Wisconsin has issued more than 122,500 since enacting its law in 2011. Yet neither of the mass shootings in these two states was stopped by an armed civilian. In fact, in the 60 mass shootings investigated by Mother Jones, in only three did a civilian help in the apprehension and the number in which the killer was stopped while shooting by an armed civilian is zero. (7)
(1) Mark Follman, “One Nation, Under the Gun,” Mother Jones, November/December 2012.
(2) Gary Younge, “Another Mass Killing Shocks Americans. Why?” The Nation, August 13/20, 2012.