In 2015, I ran a series on gun violence in America on this blog. I consolidated the series into one extensive article in the November 2015 Eagle Peak Quarterly. The piece analyzed much available data from a variety of sources and excerpted salient points. It presented some facts, offered conclusions and recommendations for reducing those deaths. Little has changed since, except more deaths by guns. Those conclusions and recommendations remain as valid today as they did then. I remain hopeful that change for the better CAN happen. If you believe all is hopeless or are angry that nothing has, the first step in making change happen is to be well-informed and not be swayed by rhetoric, emotion or myths.
There are many myths out there about gun violence, much of it driven by political ideology. So let’s clear the fog of emotion and politics that has arisen after the most recent mass shooting at the Parkland school in Florida.
Here are the conclusions of the November 2015 article. About the only things that have changed are the numbers–more mass shootings. That and the repeal of a law that made it more difficult for those with mental illness to purchase a gun (which may not matter greatly anyway, as you will see in the bullet points below).
- The USA leads the world in gun ownership and deaths by guns (other than a very few outliers with ongoing conflicts and/or other severe problems)
- The substantial majority (over 60% of gun deaths) are suicides
- Police kill more people than police are killed by others –at least by 20 to 1 and probably more
- Of those killed by police, 25% are mentally ill or are disproportionately non-white (most often black, who are 7 times more likely than whites to be killed while unarmed)
- Police are seldom charged in shootings and far less often actually convicted of a criminal offense for shooting even an unarmed person
- Mass shooting (theaters, malls, schools) and “active shooter” (disgruntled employees, etc.) incidents are becoming more common but are still a tiny percentage of all gun deaths
- Mentally disturbed individuals are NOT responsible for most gun deaths, including mass shootings or active shooter incidents (less than 5% of them)
- Domestic violence accounts for a significant, but not a substantial percentage of deaths. People living in homes with guns were three times more likely than those in homes without them to lose lives by guns
- Gang-related violence amounts to as much as 11-12% of gun deaths but those deaths are overwhelmingly gang members killing members of other gangs and are seldom related to drugs
- States with more guns had more gun deaths. States with stronger gun controls had less deaths
- Terrorism isn’t a big part of the issue, newsworthy as it may be
Here’s what we suggested in that 2015 article should be done politically/legally with qualifiers on whether it could be done. None of it has been done since then but it still can and should be done. One thing left out of those recommendations is universal background checks–probably desired by a substantial percentage of the public but also the most politically untenable change.
- Reinstate the automatic weapons ban—i.e. the sale, trade or possession of such weapons with substantial added penalties for use in a crime. Rationale: Hunters don’t need them. Militia (or extremist) groups want them but shouldn’t have them. Recreational shooters could rent and shoot them at licensed gun ranges if they simply must fire them for fun. Politically, this will be difficult at best in the current pro-gun Congress with its fear of and financial support from the NRA and their friends.
- Prohibit sale to the public of high–capacity magazines—if you have to reload, you can’t kill as many people. Again, difficult in the current political climate
- Prohibit sale to the public of armor–piercing rounds—they have been banned for handguns since 1986 but the bullets that are used in AR-15s can be used in handguns. The Obama administration caved to NRA and gun organizations to pull an ATF proposal to do this this year. So that tells you the political reality. Armor-piercing rounds can penetrate police body armor. Since deer and other game don’t wear body armor, it’s difficult to see how such bullets are needed for sportsmen.
- Destroy every weapon seized in a crime once forensics and trials are completed—evidence rooms are supposed to be secure, but they aren’t always. Some percentage of the guns on the street come from ones stolen from police or sold by corrupt officers. This should be doable. Goes along with turn-in programs periodically run in some jurisdictions. Otherwise, the same guns are used in crime after crime.
- Better secure federal, state and local armories—some percentage of the guns on the street come from theft or corrupt sales from military bases, national guard armories, police departments, etc. Could cost a little money on the security side, but since some of the weapons are used against law enforcement, at least they should support it. Prosecute more harshly those employed there who sell such weapons from inventory.
- Reduce militarization of state and local law enforcement—current law allows the federal government (especially the military) to offer surplus equipment at little or no cost to locals in ostensible support of anti-terrorism, drug-enforcement and other programs. Since there really are few genuine terrorist incidents, the main use of armored vehicles, military grade weapons and the like is in urban protest situations (see Ferguson, Missouri for example). This exacerbates problems between law enforcement and the local populace. Urban and suburban enclaves in America are NOT similar to war zones around the world; military weapons are NOT appropriate here.
- Provide more and better mental health services—including PTSD treatment for veterans, in conjunction with better shelters. Although mentally disturbed people are not responsible for most shootings, they are responsible for some and they need the help. Following the deinstitutionalization movement of the 70s and 80s, the community mental health services that were supposed to be available have become less so after budget cuts. A majority of homeless people suffer from mental illness; likewise incarcerated people.