“How on earth could he compile thirteen guns? If Chris had not been able to get ahold of thirteen guns, it wouldn’t have happened.”
– Ian Mercer, father of the Umpqua Community College shooter (Marcia, 2015)
The number of mass shootings has skyrocketed in recent years, as has their deadliness. (Pearlstein, 2016) This has occurred as gun laws have grown more lax. Gun advocates love to pretend that there’s no connection between lax gun laws and the number of mass shootings, but this simply isn’t true. There’s a very clear link between the proliferation of guns and the number of mass shootings that occur.
The link between gun laws & mass shootings
“No country in the world seems to have figured out a way to have a large number of firearms and not have public mass shootings happen,” says Adam Lankford, who recently authored a groundbreaking study definitively linking lax gun laws to mass shootings. His research found that the U.S., Yemen, Switzerland, Finland and Serbia ranked as the top 5 countries in terms of firearms per capita, and all were ranked at or near the top in terms of mass shootings per capita.
Meanwhile, the opposite also held true: Australia instituted stricter gun laws in 1996 in response to a mass shooting, including a major buyback program that reduced firearms in the country by 20%. Since that time there have been no further mass shootings in the country. “Access to firearms is one of the most critical factors for making public mass shootings possible,” says Lankford. (Miller, 1-6-2016)
The uniquely American response to mass shootings
In spite of this seemingly commonsense principle, America’s response to gun violence has been to buy more guns. Gun sales surge after every mass shooting. (Krantz, 12-8-2015) The gun companies laugh all the way to the bank. Rather than come to our senses, we double down on the things contributing to the problem. “When the public responds to a tragedy by buying more firearms, they are digging a deeper hole,” says Lankford. (Miller, 2016)
This response to mass shootings is uniquely American. In Britain on March 13, 1996, a man walked into a Scottish elementary school in Dunblane and started firing. He killed 16 children and a teacher before turning the gun on himself. Following the slaughter, the British passed legislation that banned all handguns (the weapon used in the crime), allowing only a few exceptions. They also started a massive gun buyback program to take weapons off the street. Australia, too, responded to a mass shooting with stricter laws and a buyback program that yielded 630,000 guns. Norway enacted similar measures. The people in these countries enjoy public safety that Americans can only dream of, whereas the U.S. continues to endure mass shootings on a consistent basis.
Nicole Hong sums up the situation by saying: “In the past six years, after three of the deadliest shootings in modern history–at a Las Vegas concert, an Orlando nightclub and a Connecticut elementary school–efforts in Congress to tighten gun regulations have all failed. Legislation in states, meanwhile, has led largely to wins for supporters of broader gun rights.” Twelve states recently passed laws allowing concealed carry without permits. North Dakota, Georgia, and other states passed laws giving gun owners the right to carry firearms to public places like parks, concerts, bars and churches. Oklahoma passed a 2015 law allowing certain teachers and staff at K-12 schools to carry a handgun if they undergo a training program, and new laws in Iowa let kids under 14 have guns with adult supervision. (Hong, 2-20-2018)
“We have a pattern now of mass shootings in the country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” says former president Obama. “We should never think that this is something that just happens in the ordinary course of events, because it doesn’t happen with the same frequency in other countries.” (James, 12-3-2015) To put things bluntly: Many people in other countries think we’re imbeciles. The satirical news site The Onion poked fun at American gun politics with a headline that read: “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” (Hughes, 12-3-2015)
Senior Carly Novell, who hid in the closet at school during the Parkland school shooting, describes how her grandfather was forced to do the same thing in 1949, when at 12 years old, a neighbor went on a shooting spree, murdering 13 people, including his mother, father, and grandmother. Nearly 70 years later, she feels it important to remind people how her family is still hiding in closets during a shooting rampage. “People are saying that ‘shootings are rare’ and ‘This won’t happen again to you,”’ she says. “It’s happened twice in my family.” (Stuart, 2018)
There is no surefire way to prevent mass shootings, aside from getting rid of guns altogether, which won’t happen in this country anytime soon. But the idea that we are helpless against such violence is simply untrue – a way of sticking our heads in the sand to avoid looking at the way gun policy contributes to the problem. Fewer guns and more common sense gun regulation could go a long way toward limiting the number and body count of such tragedies.