Why mass death is our new normal: The real root of America's gun violence

We all hate how routine gun massacres are now. But too few are willing to place the blame squarely where it belongs

Published December 3, 2015 10:30PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)
(Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

As you likely know by now, there was another mass shooting in America yesterday. Actually, according to Shooting Tracker, there were two.

One was in Savannah, Georgia, and led to three injuries, one death and, so far, no clear motive. Few people noticed, fewer cared. The other was in San Bernardino, California, and led to 14 deaths, 17 injuries and, so far, no clear motive. In this case, the coverage has been wall-to-wall.

Despite our knowing so very little about the specific reasons for these shootings, though, there are some things we can say already. They are not the things the media and public has thus far concerned themselves with, mind you; they have little to do with whether people who pray are dummies. They have even less to do with whether elites of faith who are offended by this mockery are victims, too.

What we can say instead is that there are more mass shootings in the United States than in any other wealthy democracy in the world. It’s not close. We can also say there are more guns in the United States than in any other wealthy democracy in the world. It’s not close. And finally, we can say that there’s probably a connection between these two truths. More guns. More mass shootings. More preventable deaths.

But being able to say something isn’t the same as being inclined to do so. And while President Obama and other leading proponents of gun safety reform (mostly Democrats) speak a whole lot more forcefully about the issue than they did as recently as five years ago, they still aren’t ready to speak these blunt truths. Their reasons are political and logical. But there’s no way to ignore a simple truth.

If we want fewer mass shootings in the United States, we’re going to have to have fewer guns. Not fewer gun shows. Not fewer “assault” weapons. Not fewer ways to get a gun without having to wait. Not something ancillary or secondary to the immutable fact of the guns themselves. Nothing that allows us to sidestep making real choices. Nothing so politically easy. Just fewer guns.

Here’s how Vox’s Dylan Matthews, who notes that “America has 4.4 percent of the world's population but almost half of its civilian-owned guns,” puts it:

Realistically, a gun control plan that has any hope of getting us down to European levels of violence is going to mean taking a huge number of guns away from a huge number of gun owners.

Other countries have done exactly that. Australia enacted a mandatory gun buyback that achieved that goal, and saw firearm suicides fall as a result. But the reforms those countries enacted are far more dramatic than anything US politicians are calling for — and even they wouldn't get us to where many other developed countries are.

Think about it this way. In 2013, the US had 106.4 gun deaths per million people. In 2011, the last year for which we have numbers, the UK endured 146 gun deaths total — or 2.3 gun deaths per million people.

To get to UK levels, we'd need to reduce gun deaths by nearly 98 percent. Even if we wanted to reach the same levels as Finland — another developed country with a relatively high rate of gun deaths — we'd need to drop from 106.4 deaths per million to 35 — more than a 67 percent reduction.

For anyone who finds the new normal of seemingly daily massacres unbearable, Matthews’ conclusion is at once hard to dispute and profoundly depressing: “The U.S. doesn't just have a gun violence problem because of its lax gun regulation. It has a problem because it has a culture that encourages large-scale gun possession[.]”

So the problem isn’t a technocratic flaw in our regulatory system; and it’s not even the currently NRA-friendly Supreme Court (as one of Matthews’ sources notes, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which reform makes it through Congress but doesn’t survive the Court). It’s not just that there are too many “assault” weapons out there, either, since any serious attempt at reform would require looking at handguns.

All of these things may be problematic, but they are not the problem. No, the problem, unfortunately, is both simpler and more complicated. The problem is U.S. culture, which venerates firearms as symbols of self-control and rugged individualism; which is so taken by the seductive power of guns that it’s willing to give absurd myths like “a good guy with a gun” a serious hearing; which bestows someone like Wayne LaPierre with influence and riches.

The problem, in other words, is us.

Watch to learn about the correlation between gun sales and mass shootings:
[jwplayer file="http://media.salon.com/2015/12/GunSalesII.Asha_.1232015.mp4" image="http://media.salon.com/2015/12/how-the-gun-industry-funnels-tens-of-millions-of-dollars-to-the-nra.jpg"][/jwplayer]

Obama's Statement About The San Bernardino Shooting

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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Aol_on Dylan Matthews Gun Control Gun Safety Guns Mass Shooting San Bernardino Shooting Video