In the last week, President Barack Obama made headlines by getting reduced to tears in the middle of an impassioned address on rising gun violence in the USA. The US has, in the recent past, received a lot of attention for its gun violence. This is an issue that needs some thinking about, because the numbers simply do not add up. Read on to find out why.
1. How many killings by gun violence have occurred in Obama’s tenure?
As of October 2015, President Barack Obama had spoken publicly or issued a statement in response to 15 events of mass shooting that took place during his tenure. But the deaths at Umpqua Community College in Oregon were the 994th mass shooting of just Obama’s second term – since November 2012.
In fact, by October 2nd, 2015, the date of the Oregon shooting, there had already occurred 294 mass shootings – defined as an incident in which four or more people are killed or injured by gun. That’s 294 shootings in 274 days of the year – or more than one per day.
2. OTC gun sale in US
The US has had increasingly liberal approaches to gun sale and use. Visitors from foreign countries often balk at how buying a gun in the US is easier than buying groceries in their home states.
The important question is – given the general ease with which guns can be bought, is it that hard for high-risk individuals to indirectly procure them?
3. The ‘guns are deterrents’ fallacy
A leading argument from Economist John Lott states that the right to carry guns creates a perception that ordinary people might be carrying firearms – thus increasing the deterrent to criminals. However, Lott’s study has been criticized for not adequately ignoring the effects of measures, like background checks and waiting periods for gun ownership. Further studies on his data show that the right to carry has actually increased violent crime. In fact, the number of killings in self defense is nearly negligible. Between 1987 and 1990, McDowall found that guns were used in defense during a crime only two times out of every 1,000 criminal incidents. That’s just 0.2%, and this gun use was not necessarily successful in preventing injury or loss of life. Thus, lax gun laws show no solution in sight for such events.
4. Give citizens guns, but not for use against terrorists
McDowall’s study for the American Journal of Public Health studied the statistical occurrence of gun usage in self-defense, and his findings suggest little success of innocent gun owners deterring the shooters in mass-shooting events.
As mentioned in McDowall’s results – “Of the times that guns were used in self-defense, 71% of the crimes were committed by strangers, with the rest of the incidents evenly divided between offenders that were acquaintances or persons well known to the victim.”
5. Rich vs Poor disparity – Rich areas are more secure, but own more guns
A somewhat illogical phenomenon is observed here, wherein gun-owners tend to largely be rich urban folk, while gun violence is most common in poorer urban sections, often involving male juveniles or young adult males. A question to ask is this – “Whom are the rich gun-owners really deterring in this picture?”
In fact, given the superb emergency response squads for almost any crisis in the United States, a useful question to ponder is this – “Is the US so unsafe that demands every person to own a gun? In fact, is not the existing violence a direct result of malicious elements having easy access to guns?”
6. Compare the Inaction on Gun violence with the Firm stance on Terrorism
CNN reporter Fareed Zakaria wrote in his 2012 piece: “Since 9/11, foreign-inspired terrorism has claimed about two dozen lives in the United States. (Meanwhile, more than 100,000 have been killed in gun homicides and more than 400,000 in motor-vehicle accidents.) “
While 9/11 was a landmark event in the global stance on terror, it led to rapid action in terms of reforms, rethinking of policy and institutions, stricter airport and immigration security, screening of passengers, no fly lists, biometric scanning, and improved intelligence – all of these were seen within mere months of the terrible attacks.
“Clearly, numbers speak for themselves here, as gun violence claims so many more cumulative lives every year than terror has in the last decade. In fact, 2016, our current year, has already seen 167 deaths attributed to gun violence – in just a week! Compare with the terror deaths in the last 10 years, which is less than 100!” Source:https://www.washingtonpost.com
Now, is it fair to assume that strong action has curbed terror attack frequency, success, as well as casualty rates? If yes, then why not the same for gun violence? This leads to my next question.
7. What could be preventing a Strong Gun or almost ‘NO GUN’ legislation?
- Revenue Loss
- Lack of Resources
- Status symbol
- President himself
- Existing Laws
- Not a safe country to live in
- Federal Police is only good in Movies
- Combinations of above or any other reason
When a person holding a gun – who is usually referred to as a terrorist or a gunman in most other countries – appears in front of us from nowhere in a public place, the natural reaction is to run away and try to hide with usually two things in mind and mouth – “Please save me God” and/or “Fxxk these terrorists”.
And of course, the whole nation immediately stands against these terrorists and speaks in one voice. Candles are lit, positive gestures are made, Facebook profile pictures are changed, and the world is united in sympathy. The media too tries to positively encourage the country in its rebuilding efforts, as things try to get back to normal.
One wonders what we should call these ‘gun holding respected citizens’, who carry gun in public places – some of them indeed love mass shootings. Why not call them “Inhouse Terrorists” – built legally and strongly backed by the Government? And if that is so, then what sets them apart from terrorist organisations like IS, who are doing the same thing in another geography?
Objectively seen, carrying a gun for some genuine reason, like protecting yourself from wild animals, makes sense. But such easy accessibility in especially rich, urban areas questions that premise.
That leads me to address the title of the article – where is the right place to direct our sympathy? To the tears of Obama, or to the growing gun violence?
Note: All statistics, unless labeled otherwise, are taken from the Gun Violence Archive, a comprehensive source of data on gun violence in the US. The author is grateful to the contributors and researchers of gunviolencearchive.org for providing useful and insightful data.
Sources and further reading:
1. National Conference of State Legislatures, List of Obama’s Executive actions on Gun Control: http://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/summary-president-obama-gun-proposals.aspx; 2. Gun Violence Archive, List of Incidents in 2016:http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/total-number-of-incidents; 3. Gun Violence Archive, Past Summary ledgers: http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/past-tolls; 4. White House Official website, Memorandum Promoting Smart Gun Technology:https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/05/memorandum-promoting-smart-gun-technology; 5. HHS.org, Obama Modifies HIPAA to strengthen firearm background check system
http://www.hhs.gov/blog/2016/01/04/obama-administration-modifies-hipaa.html; 6. Federal Register – The Daily Journal of the US Government, HIPAA Privacy Rule and NICS: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/01/07/2014-00055/health-insurance-portability-and-accountability-act-hipaa-privacy-rule-and-the-national-instant; 7. Pacific Standard, Gun Rights lobbyists outspending Gun Control ones by large margin: http://www.psmag.com/politics-and-law/the-money-behind-gun-rights-and-gun-control-lobbying; 8. Open Secrets, Gun Control: https://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=Q12; 9. Global Research, 167 deaths in 2016 so far: http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-terrorism-statistics-every-american-needs-to-hear/5382818; 10. Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria’s article on Integrating Muslims into America: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-a-better-way-for-america-to-integrate-muslims/2013/04/24/9e1ca588-ad12-11e2-b6fd-ba6f5f26d70e_story.html; 11. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, David McDowall’s study of Preventive Effects of Mandatory Sentencing Laws for Gun Crimes: http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6744&context=jclc