Editor, The Spotlight:
Mass shootings like the unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut have become a seemingly regular occurrence in our country. Within the past year alone, lone gunmen have gone on homicidal rampages in a theatre in Colorado, a house of worship in Wisconsin, a mall in Oregon, a college in Oakland, and a coffee shop in Seattle. While these events have become infuriatingly common, what happened in Newtown was especially disturbing. There is no greater crime than violence against children. And a parent’s loss of a child under these circumstances must be one of the single worst experiences a human being can endure.
These catastrophes defy explanation, and doubtless the causes are multifaceted. A renewed discussion of the way our society treats those with mental illness is welcome. But deranged individuals exist in every country on earth – and yet mass shootings (and gun violence generally) occur far more often in the U.S. than any other industrialized democracy. The difference is here the mentally disturbed can access weapons of mass destruction with much greater ease than comparable countries like Canada, Japan, Australia, or most of the states of the E.U. There are approximately 310 million non-military guns in this country of 314 million people. There is thus about one civilian firearm for every man, woman, and child in the U.S. Ours is a society awash in guns.
What results from the ubiquity of guns in our country? Unsurprisingly, there is a strong positive correlation between the number of guns in a society and the gun homicide/violence rate. The U.S. has the twelfth-worst rate of firearm related deaths in the world. No comparable country is even close. Canada’s per capita firearm homicide rate is less than a third of ours. The U.K.’s per capita rate is 1% of that in the U.S. As maddening as these figures are, they confirm that, unlike natural disasters, gun violence is a societal problem that we have the power to stop or at least radically reduce. We just need the political will to implement sensible gun laws.