Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Facts about mass murders and guns in the United States

Ezra Klein notes a number of facts about guns and mass shootings in the U.S. in his Washington Post blog. The number of those favoring stricter gun control laws has gone from 78% in 1990 to 44% in 2010.
Klein starts out by noting that much of his data was first collected after the Aurora Colorado shootings in July of this year. He remarks that there multiple calls to avoid politicizing the tragedy. Klein takes that as code for “don’t talk about reforming our gun control laws.” The demand not to politicize the tragedy in itself politicizes the issue for Klein but in favor of those who want to retain the status quo. While Klein certainly has a point, it does seem appropriate to allow a period of grieving before discussing issues such as gun control. Klein notes that if there were roads collapsing all over killing drivers, Congress and politicians would immediately be discussing remedies. Certainly if terrorists were detonating bombs at different ports there would be instantly a demand for better security. However, the response to gun violence is to advise mourning and not talk of policy changes. The first fact that Klein notes is that shooting sprees are not all that rare in the U.S. Since 1982 there have been at least 61 mass murders covering 30 states in all. In most instances the weapons had been obtained legally. Another fact is that the U.S. has been the scene of eleven of the twenty worst mass shootings within the last half century. Of these eleven mass shootings, five have happened since 2007, and that does not include the Sandy Hook case. The United States is much more violent than most developed countries, although the U.S. is less violent now than it was in the past. Among regions of the U.S., the south is the most violent. A surprising fact is that gun ownership in the United States is decreasing rather than increasing. Political scientist Patrick Egan notes:
“For all the attention given to America’s culture of guns, ownership of firearms is at or near all-time lows.... long-term trends suggest that we are in fact currently experiencing a waning culture of guns and violence in the United States. “
Less surprising is the fact that more guns are associated with more murders whether one looks at statistics for different countries or different states within the U.S. In U.S. states those with stricter gun laws have lower rates of death from gun-related violence. The popularity of gun control has declined from over three quarters of the population in 1990 to much less than half (44%) in 2010. However, majorities are in favor of specific types of controls such as banning the possession of semi-automatic weapons. One surprising fact that Klein does not reveal is that after mass murders the tendency is for approval of stricter gun control to go down rather than up as one might think. An emotional President Obama said that ”We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” That may be difficult in the U.S. if not impossible as a recent article with accompanying graph shows:
"Public support for gun control doesn’t go up after mass shootings in the US. In fact, several recent shootings at schools were followed by sharp declines in support for gun control."
In spite of these trends, it would seem that particular suggestions for gun control might very well have popular support as Klein has shown.


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