The recent gun rampage in Las Vegas by a ‘sick and demented’ man typically brought up the polarizing issue of gun control in the United States.
If only we had stricter laws then this wouldn’t happen, goes the common logic.
The problem with that logic is that it is unfounded. The unfortunate fact is that rampages and gun massacres still happen in other parts of the developed world, even in countries with strict gun laws. Perhaps they don’t occur as often, but when they do, they can be just as deadly.
That is not to say there is nothing we can do about psychotic villains with an evil plot to shoot a lot of people. That is not to say that stricter laws will not help this issue at all.
However, a more compelling argument for gun laws is one which acknowledges that a senseless tragedy could occur regardless of what policies are in place to prevent it. A more compelling argument is one which acknowledges that most gun deaths in the United States are actually suicides. A more compelling argument is one which acknowledges that there are many shootings every single day. That most victims of shootings are known to their killers, that the majority of gun homicides are the result of domestic disputes.
A rampage such as the one which occurred last week in Las Vegas is a planned act. This man collected weapons from multiple outlets, modified his guns and plotted his massacre. At the point in time in which I am writing this, no source has confirmed what his reasons or mental status were at the time. Background checks were performed that did not result in any suspicion from the sellers. There is no guarantee here that a stricter law would have prevented his actions.
On the other hand, most gun deaths are the result of an impulsive action, a hasty homicide or a suicide. Impulsiveness can be addressed by simply providing barriers to completing the action.
Suicide, it has been shown, can be curbed by removing access to easy routes of death. Bridge barriers, for example, erected to prevent jumpers can not only reduce the incidence of suicide at a particular bridge, but also have been shown to reduce a city’s overall suicide rates when placed at high risk locations.
One can easily apply the impulsiveness factor of bridge jumping suicides to suicide by gun. In 2015, Dylan Matt wrote an article for Vox which makes this connection. Two years later, his argument is still relevant.
You can find more recent gun death statistics from Everytown Research, which compiles data from the CDC. The most relevant points:
- An average of 93 people die a day from gun violence or by suicide in the US.
- Suicide accounts for roughly two thirds of gun deaths, or 58 of these on average daily.
In other words, nearly every single day, the equivalent number of people that have died in the worst rampage in United States’ history die by suicide using a gun. Isn’t this a problem worth addressing? Do we grieve a suicide victim any less than a victim of a mass shooting?
If an impulsive suicide can be prevented by removing access to the means of suicide, then it is also worth considering the likelihood that removing access to guns will prevent many impulsive homicides.
In the Annals of Internal Medicine, a 2014 study brings both of these conclusions together:
Impulsiveness may be a catalyst in using a firearm to commit suicide and may also play a role in firearm-related homicide. Researchers have estimated higher odds of homicide victimization among women than men. Because most homicide victims know their perpetrators, this finding may indicate an impulsive reaction to domestic disputes.
The authors conclude by confirming that both homicides and suicides are significantly increased when there is access to a firearm. They also confirm that “most homicide victims know their assailant, which suggests an interpersonal dispute within the household or other domestic violence and not an unknown intruder.”
The Annals study and the Everytown stats not only reveal that most gun deaths are impulsive, whether by homicide or suicide, but also effectively dispel another central myth around gun ownership: namely that we need guns to protect ourselves from intruders. In fact having a gun around is more likely to get us killed by a known perpetrator than saving us from an intruder.
Let’s face it: stricter gun laws will without any speck of doubt prevent the vast majority of impulsive gun deaths in the United States. Yet more regulation may or may not help when faced with a mass murderer who has planned a massacre.
In light of this evidence, I don’t think we should focus the gun control argument around massacres and rampages, however tempting it may be to do so. Instead we should bring up gun regulations every time that someone dies as a result of any kind of gun use. That is a conversation we could be having at least 93 times a day.