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August 26, 2015

"Why the U.S. is No. 1 -- in mass shootings"

In light of sad and tragic news of yet another multiple-murder shooting in Virginia (CNN report here), I found especially notable this Los Angeles Times article about some sociology research on high-profile crimes in the United States.  The piece has the headline given to this post, and it gets started this way:

The United States is, by a long shot, the global leader in mass shootings, claiming just 5% of the global population but an outsized share -- 31% -- of the world's mass shooters since 1966, a new study finds.

The Philippines, Russia, Yemen and France -- all countries that can claim a substantial share of the 291 documented mass shootings between 1966 and 2012 -- collectively didn't even come close to the United States.

And what makes the United States such a fertile incubator for mass shooters? A comprehensive analysis of the perpetrators, their motives and the national contexts for their actions suggests that several factors have conspired to create in the United States a potent medium for fostering large-scale murder.

Those factors include a chronic and widespread gap between Americans' expectations for themselves and their actual achievement, Americans' adulation of fame, and the extent of gun ownership in the United States.

Set those features against a circumstance the United States shares with many other countries -- a backdrop of poorly managed mental illness -- and you have a uniquely volatile brew, the new study says.

With those conclusions, University of Alabama criminologist Adam Lankford set out to illuminate the darker side of American "exceptionalism" -- the notion that the United States' size, diversity, political and economic institutions and traditions set us apart in the world. Lankford's paper is among those being presented this week at the American Sociological Assn.'s annual meeting, in Chicago.

Perhaps no single factor sets the United States apart as sharply as does gun ownership, wrote Lankford. Of 178 countries included in Lankford's analysis, the United States ranked first in per-capita gun ownership. A 2007 survey found 270 million firearms in U.S. civilian households -- an ownership rate of 88.8 firearms per 100 people. Yemen followed, with 54.8 firearms per 100 people.

August 26, 2015 at 01:11 PM | Permalink

Comments

This isn't a "mass" shooting.

The homicide rate, especially by guns, is the better comparison. One U.S. has little reason to be proud of. But, think it better to make the right one.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 26, 2015 4:34:00 PM

Guns, guns, guns. We love 'em. We fondle them; we sleep with them; we masturbate with them. And as long as the Second Amendment (as currently misinterpreted) is the only Amendment that the NRA recognizes, nothing will ever change.

Posted by: Dave from Texas | Aug 26, 2015 6:36:41 PM

President Barack Obama expressed his sadness Wednesday over the shooting of two television journalists during a live broadcast. "It breaks my heart every time you read or hear about these kinds of incidents," Obama told WPVI's Monica Malpass during an interview at the White House. "What we know is that the number of people who die from gun-related incidents around this country dwarfs any deaths that happen through terrorism," Obama added. Reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, of Roanoke-based news station WDBJ in Virginia were shot and killed Wednesday morning by a former WDBJ reporter. Suspect Vester Lee Flanagan later died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest renewed the Obama administration's call for more common sense gun control reforms during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Obama is no stranger to mass shootings, having spoken out on more than 14 since taking office. He has called the failure to pass gun reform "the greatest frustration" of his presidency, but vowed to not give up on the issue.P

Posted by: Mary | Aug 26, 2015 6:44:24 PM

Guns, guns, guns. America's obsession destroys many lives and not just in mass shootings:

"In the United States, suicides outnumber homicides almost two to one. Perhaps the real tragedy behind suicide deaths—about 30,000 a year, one for every 45 attempts—is that so many could be prevented. Research shows that whether attempters live or die depends in large part on the ready availability of highly lethal means, especially firearms.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health of all 50 U.S. states reveals a powerful link between rates of firearm ownership and suicides. Based on a survey of American households conducted in 2002, HSPH Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management Matthew Miller, Research Associate Deborah Azrael, and colleagues at the School’s Injury Control Research Center (ICRC), found that in states where guns were prevalent—as in Wyoming, where 63 percent of households reported owning guns—rates of suicide were higher. The inverse was also true: where gun ownership was less common, suicide rates were also lower.

The lesson? Many lives would likely be saved if people disposed of their firearms, kept them locked away, or stored them outside the home. Says HSPH Professor of Health Policy David Hemenway, the ICRC’s director: “Studies show that most attempters act on impulse, in moments of panic or despair. Once the acute feelings ease, 90 percent do not go on to die by suicide.”

But few can survive a gun blast. "

Posted by: Peter | Aug 26, 2015 6:48:19 PM

When are "conservatives" going to speak up about America's obsession with guns? How many kids have to die? How many teens? How many innocent folks? We just bury our heads in the sand. Until it's our kid next, or our friend's kid.

Posted by: conservative | Aug 26, 2015 7:00:45 PM

Don't take my gun away.

"Reporter, Cameraman Killed In Shooting During Live News Broadcast

Posted: 08/26/2015 09:07 AM EDT | Edited: 1 hour ago

Two beloved Virginia journalists were shot and killed Wednesday morning when a gunman opened fire in a shocking moment caught on live television.

Reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman Adam Ward, 27, worked for Roanoke-based news station WDBJ and were broadcasting from Smith Mountain Lake in the community of Moneta when multiple gunshots rang out around 6:45 a.m. Parker screamed and ducked before the camera turned off. Parker and Ward both died at the scene. Vicki Gardner, the executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce who Parker was interviewing at the time, was struck in the back and is in stable condition after undergoing surgery at a local hospital.

Posted by: observer | Aug 26, 2015 10:32:34 PM

In today's New York Times by
Nicholas Kristof:

The slaying of two journalists Wednesday as they broadcast live to a television audience in Virginia is still seared on our screens and our minds, but it’s a moment not only to mourn but also to learn lessons.

The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States. Three quick data points:

■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.

■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.

Bryce Williams, as the Virginia killer was known to viewers when he worked as a broadcaster, apparently obtained the gun used to murder his former co-workers Alison Parker and Adam Ward in response to the June massacre in a South Carolina church — an example of how gun violence begets gun violence. Williams may have been mentally disturbed, given that he videotaped Wednesday’s killings and then posted them on Facebook.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!,” Williams reportedly wrote in a lengthy fax sent to ABC News after the killings.

Whether or not Williams was insane, our policies on guns are demented — not least in that we don’t even have universal background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of people waiting to go boom.

The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has seven pages of regulations concerning ladders, which are involved in 300 deaths in America annually. Yet the federal government doesn’t make what I would call a serious effort to regulate guns, which are involved in the deaths of more than 33,000 people in America annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (that includes suicides, murders and accidents).

Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but we don’t try to ban them!

Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers, cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.

This approach has been stunningly successful. By my calculations, if we had the same auto fatality rate as in 1921, we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually from cars. We have reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent.

Yet in the case of firearms, the gun lobby (enabled by craven politicians) has for years tried to block even research on how to reduce gun deaths. The gun industry made a childproof gun back in the 19th century but today has ferociously resisted “smart guns.” If someone steals an iPhone, it requires a PIN; guns don’t.

We’re not going to eliminate gun deaths in America. But a serious effort might reduce gun deaths by, say, one-third, and that would be 11,000 lives saved a year.

The United States is an outlier, both in our lack of serious policies toward guns and in our mortality rates. Professor Hemenway calculates that the U.S. firearm homicide rate is seven times that of the next country in the rich world on the list, Canada, and 600 times higher than that of South Korea.

We need universal background checks with more rigorous screening, limits on gun purchases to one a month to reduce trafficking, safe storage requirements, serial number markings that are more difficult to obliterate, waiting periods to buy a handgun — and more research on what steps would actually save lives. If the federal government won’t act, states should lead.

Australia is a model. In 1996, after a mass shooting there, the country united behind tougher firearm restrictions. The Journal of Public Health Policy notes that the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.

Here in America, we can similarly move from passive horror to take steps to reduce the 92 lives claimed by gun violence in the United States daily. Surely we can regulate guns as seriously as we do cars, ladders and swimming pools.



Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Aug 27, 2015 9:29:32 AM

If Mass was not compulsory then fewer cat o lics would shoot.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Aug 27, 2015 11:29:32 AM

"Australia is a model."

A Slate article summarizes:

"At the heart of the push was a massive buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, or about one-fifth of all firearms in circulation in Australia. The country’s new gun laws prohibited private sales, required that all weapons be individually registered to their owners, and required that gun buyers present a “genuine reason” for needing each weapon at the time of the purchase. (Self-defense did not count.)"

http://www.slate.com/blogs/crime/2012/12/16/gun_control_after_connecticut_shooting_could_australia_s_laws_provide_a.html

If our baseline is that simple self-defense is not enough to buy a gun, it is pretty unrealistic as goals go. A core issue is the number of guns in this country which is in large part a cultural matter. Certain countries like Israel and I believe Switzerland has a regime where the average person might own firearms that are quite dangerous but they don't have the same homicide rate as here.

I think many of the things cited by Mr. Levine is quite valid and it very well might be useful to have a protected flaw -- D.C. v. Heller -- while allowing them. I would compare this to let's say abortion where a baseline right is present while a range (not all) regulations are allowed.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 27, 2015 12:48:43 PM

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