Can Politicians Get Beyond Headlines and Sound Bites?   -   April 24, 2021

Mass Shootings Are Tragedies – But the Bigger Tragedy Lies Elsewhere!

Suddenly, after a year-long hiatus, mass shootings in Atlanta, Boulder, South Carolina and Indianapolis have left 32 dead and 6 wounded.  But the bigger tragedy is the thousands of other shooting deaths that go virtually unnoticed.  What must we do to reduce those numbers?

First, stop repeating what we’ve done before; we won’t get different results.  What we’re currently doing, and have been for years, is ineffective.


After each high-profile shooting public debate follows a familiar pattern – blame, pick sides, pass a new law and move on.  Focus is usually on guns – if they hadn’t been (legally) available the tragedy wouldn’t have happened.  Politicians and pundits demand, without significant hearings, quick-fix solutions – new gun controls:  President Biden and others have already demanded legislation to improve background checking (all four shooters bought their guns after legal background checks), and ban AR15-type rifles (three shooters used pistols, one that functioned much like an AR-15, and one used an AR-15).


Such reactions may be natural.  Guns are an attractive target because, if they were the problem the solution would be simple … ban them.


Such reactions may be cynical.  It’s relatively easy to respond to a high-profile shooting by passing a law visible to everyone (voters).  That would generate positive feedback, and few would follow up to evaluate the law’s effectiveness.


Such reactions waste resources.  Mass shootings account for far less that one percent of gun deaths in America.  Much sound and fury and time accompany legislative reactions.  Expense and time are expended on the implementation of resulting legislation and regulations.  But there’s scant evidence that such actions reduce violent deaths.


Almost all gun-related deaths in America are suicides and homicides.  If guns were not available, many of those deaths would still occur through other means or different weapons.  Indeed, in the 26 nations having higher suicide rates than the United States, use of guns ranks far behind other methods.  In the 110 nations having higher murder rates than the United States, private ownership of guns is generally banned.  As with suicides, preventing homicides in general will save more lives than preventing only gun-related homicides because some percentage of prevented gun-related homicides would be carried out with a different weapon.


Why not focus on all gun-related deaths?  Involve talented professionals who ignore politics and define the problem into manageable segments, prioritize the segments in terms of potential for saving lives (mass shootings are way down the list), measure results and replicate those that work.  Politicians need to stop the grandstanding.  Find and fund ongoing mental health and other programs that show promise/results.  There are some – New York’s Gun Involved Violence Elimination (GIVE) Initiative, for example (see Gun Mania, chapter 22).


Yes, such an approach is much harder than merely passing a new law, and yes, its immediate political dividends will be minuscule.  But, as spelled out in Gun Mania, it will save far more lives over the long run.


(For more, preview Gun Mania here.)

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