It was this reality that allowed an 18-year-old to obtain an assault rifle and kill 19 children and two teachers in an elementary school classroom in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. And it’s what makes the United States a global exception when it comes to gun violence, with more gun deaths than any of its peers.
Let’s review three ways to think about the gun problem in the United States.
The number of guns
Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths. Studies have shown this to be true at the state and national level. This is true for homicides, suicides, mass shootings and even police shootings.
It’s an intuitive idea: If guns are more available, people will use them more often. If you replaced “guns” in this sentence with another name, it would be so obvious that it would be trivial.
Stricter gun laws seem to help. They are associated with fewer gun deaths, in a national and global context, while more flexible gun laws are linked to more gun deaths.
But federal laws are lax. Other developed countries generally require at least a license to own a firearm, if they allow someone to obtain a firearm. In the United States, even a background check is not always required to buy a gun, due to poor law enforcement and legal loopholes.
Reduce mass shootings
The United States will always have more guns, and therefore more deaths, than other rich countries. Given the Second Amendment, mixed public opinion and a tightly divided federal government, lawmakers face strict limits on their ability to go.
But since US gun laws are so weak, there’s plenty of room for improvement — and at least reducing some gun deaths.
To reduce mass shootings, experts have several ideas:
– Deeper background checks could stop some gunmen, like those in the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 and Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017.
– “Red flag” laws allow law enforcement officials to confiscate firearms from people who show warning signs of violence, such as threatening peers or family members. The laws could have applied to the shooter in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
— A ban on assault weapons would restrict or prohibit access to the types of guns that shooters often use. Some experts say a ban could at least make mass shootings less lethal by pushing gunmen towards less effective weapons.
But it’s hard to say exactly what effect these measures would have, because there is little good research on the effects of gun policies on mass shootings. An unanswered question is whether a determined shooter would find a way around the laws: if he can’t use an assault rifle, would he resort to a handgun or a shotgun? This might make the shootout less deadly, but not stop it completely.
The biggest problem
Most shootings in America never appear in national headlines. The majority of gun deaths in 2021 were suicides. Almost half were homicides that occurred outside of mass shootings; these are more typical acts of violence on the streets and in homes (and most involve handguns). Mass shootings were responsible for less than 2% of gun deaths last year.
Stricter gun laws could also reduce the most common gun deaths. It all boils down to the same problem: more guns equals more gun deaths, whether it’s a gang shooting in California, a suicide in Wyoming, or a shooting in a school in Texas.