What if gun control isn’t solely to blame for mass shootings in America?

Published: October 30, 2015
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Hunter McConathy (C), 7, holds a hunting rifle with a short stock as his father Bryan (R) and Cabela's salesman Russ Duncan (L) watch him at the Cabela's store in Fort Worth, Texas. PHOTO: REUTERS

With alarming regularity, shootings in America make the news across the planet, sometimes every other week. Horrific visuals of mayhem, tragedy, and pain fill our TV screens as we try to understand how the most powerful nation in the world helplessly suffers like this month after month, year after year.

We look at the statistics where only the United States amongst its peers sees mass murders take place with any regularity, and wonder what the hell is going on.

On the left, American politicians would have their citizens believe the problem simply stems from a lack of gun control, and the public eats it up.

But, what if this is simply not true, or not completely true? What if there is more to it? What if the truth is far more complicated and disturbing than what the average American would like to believe?

Surprisingly, homicides and other crimes related to guns are down considerably in the United States. On the other hand, mass public shootings are on the rise. According to a Harvard School of Public Health study, every 64 days, there is a mass public shooting in the United States. This is a shocking increase form one every 200 days in the 29 years previously.

So why isn’t someone doing something about it?

Guns are a religion in America. The debate over the loose interpretation of the second amendment of the American constitution, which allows citizens to arm themselves with the kind of high-tech weaponry found on battlefields, is as loaded a discussion in America, as a conversation over the blasphemy law is in Pakistan.

Americans against stricter gun control argue in favour of their constitutional right. On the other hand, those who demand tougher laws for gun ownership cite statistics. When they say the United States leads the world in mass shootings, they aren’t wrong.

A report by the Wall street Journal makes for grim reading. United States accounts for only five per cent of the world’s population, yet it claimed 31 per cent of the world’s mass shooters from 1996 to 2012. Another, more worrying statistic, comparing developed nations across the world, shows the United States leading with 133 mass shootings between the years 2000 and 2014. The next in line is Germany with six, Russia and China with four each, South African and Canada with three a piece, and other nations with either one or two mass shootings.

Troublingly, there are more mass shootings in the United States in a year than Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Israel, Germany, South Africa, Argentina, England, Russia, Canada, Mexico, China have had in 14 years combined.

US’s share of 133 mass shootings is out of a total of 166 between these nations. This statistic has only gone up. CNN states that there is a mass shooting now every two weeks in the United States, and once a month in a school.

Undoubtedly, there is a direct relationship between gun ownership and gun murders in any country. It is only logical to assume a person with murderous thoughts is more like to carry out his dark fantasies impulsively when a weapon is easily available.

So is this the only reason behind the mass shootings in America? Certainly, the left-wing American politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would like you to believe so. Time after time, Europe and Canada are cited as regions where mass shootings are rare due to low weapon distribution.

But what if this isn’t completely true? What if I told you the average American mass shooter doesn’t act impulsively, but plans his shooting until he is set off?

The Guardian recently published a data summary on gun murder statistics and gun ownership worldwide. When comparing the world’s most developed nations, the report makes for extraordinary reading.

There are 88.8 civilian firearms per 100 people in the United States. In the same nation, the firearm murder rate is 2.97 per 100,000 people. Compare that to Canada with 30.8 firearms per 100 people, which is three times as less, yet the firearm murder rate at 0.51 is six times as less. In short, Canadians do like their guns, but they don’t go around killing other people. It is a similar pattern for other developed nations.

In Norway, there are 31.3 firearms per 100 people, yet only 0.05 murders by firearms per 100,000 people. In Switzerland, there are 45.7 firearms per 100 people, but only 0.77 such murders per 100,000 people. Sweden has 31.6 firearms for every 100 people, yet only has a gun related death rate of 0.41 per 100,000. Germany has 30.3% firearms, and a firearm murder rate of 0.19 per 100,000. Finland? 45.3 firearms per 100 people, but a murder rate of only 0.45.

The statistics are unsettling to say the least. The differences in murder rates are beyond disproportionate. Let’s keep two facts in mind though. These nations have tighter checks and balances when it comes to firearms and the type of weapons on offer are far less sophisticated than what you’d find in the USA. That being said, it is a deep chasm.

Let’s ask the question no American politician is asking: With so many other developed nations boasting gun cultures, why is the gun related murder rate so much higher in America? Thirty one per cent of Canada carries firearms, yet only has had to deal with three mass shootings in 14 years. In America it is 133.

For politicians in America, the natural target is gun control. The argument is that if the United States carried the same gun control laws as its peers, if it copied the model followed by the United Kingdom and other countries of Europe, or Australia, it would see a dramatic drop in mass shootings.

As I said, this is fair assessment. You take away the guns and you take away the instruments of destruction. But is it really so simple? Are they claiming that if Canada sported three times as much gun-ownership, mass shootings would go up in the nation from three in 14 years to 133? If Switzerland had twice as many firearms as it does now per 100 people, its gun related murder rate would spike from 0.77 to nearly four times as much?

What if these mass shootings aren’t as much a gun control problem as we’d like to believe? To Democrats, the only correlation between mass shootings and are the weapons themselves. But what if these mass shootings are a symptom of a far graver and more worrying issue, a complicated problem so disturbing that American politicians would rather ignore it and concentrate on lobbying for gun control?

Let me ask you this. Does a normal well-adjusted person pick up a weapon and shoot little children at a school, or kill all of his co-workers in a spree of insanity? Why are these incidents so rare in European and Canadian regions where a significant proportion of the population boasts gun ownership?

Sure, stricter gun laws can reduce spur of the moment crimes, but most mass shooters carefully planned their acts for several weeks if not months. A man with time can acquire guns in a country with tougher gun laws if he sets his mind to it, which these Americans did. In Norway, Anders Behring Breivik started planning his attacks in 2002 before executing his horrific plans in 2011. If your country sells guns, there is no check in the world that can stop a methodical mass shooter.

Stricter gun control is only the beginning. America needs to understand why these mass shooters turn to murder in the first place. What’s more, when examining Europe and Canada, the politicians need to appreciate other things these nations are doing differently. There are things only America does that may play a major role in the birth of a mass shooter.

To start with, let’s examine the profile of a mass shooter.

In terms of background, shooters often come from homes where they face a varying combination of abuse and neglect. They may have acted out by hurting animals through torture.

They turn to mass murder because they have felt powerless or insignificant all of their lives and becoming a mass shooter puts them in control. They also have histories of depression.

Other experts suggest shooters in the work place kill after not achieving their dreams and goals. Having believed in the American dream they now feel let down by America.

According to CNN, invariably, the mass shooter carries a mental illness,

“Duwe found the most common illness associated with mass public shootings was paranoid schizophrenia, a type of schizophrenia in which the person has delusions of being plotted against or persecuted.”

Other still cite both poverty and substance abuse as deciding factors.

Finally, perhaps one of the most import factors is that of the most recent mass shooters, the majority were sons of single mothers.

Mass shootings are contagious

According to The New York Times, mass shooters are considered to be heroes by those considering their own killing spree. I suppose this is why a study published in PLOS ONE found that mass shootings are contagious, as long as they are covered sensationally in national media. Once a mass shooting occurs and is processed by the profiteering American media machine, the study finds that there is a 20 to 30 per cent chance of another shooting in two weeks by a vulnerable mind watching the event on TV.

America differs from the rest of the developed world in how it covers shootings.

AJ+ has an eye opening video, comparing Canadian and American coverage of a shooting. The differences are startling.

American news outlets such as CNN, FOX News and the like had no qualms about showing victims fighting to take another breath, or using the sort of presentation you’d find in an action film from Michael Bay or Ridley Scott.

The large fonts hit you with rapid frequency, while the analysts speculate nonsensically, as long as it makes for good, exciting, television and they win the ratings game. It is the sort of apathy for the victims you’d possibly find in a shooter himself.

On the other hand, the Canadian news channels exercised caution, showed sensitivity, and preached calm.

In spite of the study which states mass shootings are contagious, mainstream American media claims psychiatrists are divided on whether sensationalist coverage encourages shootings. It isn’t completely surprising however that those responsible for sensationalism don’t find fault with themselves.

Writing for The Atlantic, Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist, is stupefied by how the American media, ‘swirls around’ mass killings like a ‘tornado’. He fears this sensationalism could be responsible for ‘creating a vicious cycle of copycat effects…’

American mothers can sometimes not afford to bond with their children.

National Review finds a direct correlation between mass shooters and absent fathers. With the fathers already gone, is America putting too much pressure on mothers?

It starts with childbirth. The United States is the only developed country in the world which doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. In a country where the cost of living is so high that often both parents have to work to make ends meet, or a single parent must most definitely work, to ask a mother to separate from her child during the most crucial part of its development where it bonds with its parent, is inhumane.

Another American issue is how mothers give birth. According to the documentary, The Business of Being Born, American mothers, unlike European ones, are often tricked into giving birth though unnatural means by hospitals more concerned with their bottom lines. This, again, has a psychological impact on both mother and child.

Is it any wonder that so many Americans are growing up without a healthy connection to their parents? Or so many suffer from, as psychiatrist Tony Farrenkopf calls it, ineffective parenting?

Foods banned by Europeans and Canadians for creating nerve damage are eaten by Americans.

Buzzfeed presents a short list of just a few substances consumed in America, yet banned in Europe. These items can cause birth defects, organ damage, hurt nerve cell development, and affect the nervous system. Some food dyes cause aggressive and reckless behaviour in kids.

America has a mental health problem.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) study concluded that mental health disorders are the highest in the United States. In fact, over a lifetime, the average American has a 47.4% chance of suffering from a mental sickness. Every year, 27 per cent Americans will suffer from a mental health condition. Comparatively, fewer citizens of other nations will suffer from such an illness.

But the real difference between America and other developed nations is in the way health care is delivered. Europeans and Canadians with psychological concerns can find help through universal health care. In America, on the other hand, health care is a disaster. Only 41.1 Americans suffering from mental health disorders find treatment.

A dog eat dog world

Unfortunately, cut throat capitalism has started to kill the soul of the United States of America. European nations and Canada not only support tighter gun control, but are also welfare states. They take care of their people. There is a vast difference between income equality in Europe as compared to America. Unlike America, the European middle class grows.

Americans have less vacation time, less disposable income, work harder and longer hours. Some American students feel like they don’t fit in, don’t belong, are lonely, and don’t have the connection with their mother to anchor them. They are fed lies about the evils of socialism and how their life is better, when it isn’t.

Meanwhile, mass shooters are found to often be in financial strife, or suffering from various mental health issues, such as paranoid schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. Most mentally ill do not become mass shooters, but those mass shooters who do are most certainly mentally ill.

In essence, the greater the amount of mentally ill people, the greater the probably of one of them becoming a mass shooter.

The solution is not to be suspicious of every American showing signs of a mental illness, but to provide a support network, and more importantly, fight the factors which result in mental health issues. But to fight these factors means to rework how much of America functions itself.

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • SRK

    Why are you worried about America? Have we run out of things to worry about around here?Recommend

  • Nandita.

    This was a brilliant read! Very informative and insightful.Recommend

  • franklynn

    Flawed! Look at all murders. Comparisons MUST be normalized to mean something. Normalize around all murders, then compare. Basic statistics, but a stretch for journalists.

    People without firearms will murder with other tools. A reduction of firearms deaths may not mean a reduction of all deaths. If you perform this level of proper statistical analysis, you may be surprised at the results. Things that make you go, “Hmmm?”Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    You see that big X on the top right of your screen? Just press it. Writers aren’t limited to what SRK finds interesting. kthxbye.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I started reading and read and read and read….and said if I had a water pistol I’d have zapped you.
    You did not give stats on accidental shootings especially involving children.
    You say the American politician tells the people that the problem stems from lack of gun control…..and that’s wrong, they tell them exactly the opposite because the powerful NRA have them in their pocket…except for a very few like the Dy. Governor of California and Hillary Clinton.
    People do realize that there is a problem in society but what is simpler to do ? Control the gun or reform society……its a no-brainer.Recommend

  • Msckkcsm

    An intelligent article, unlike most that appear in the U.S. Two points: One is that the mass shootings are only the tip of the iceberg of the tragedy of U.S. gun violence. On the order of a third of a million people die from gun violence, and double that number receive injuries (a huge number of which are devastating), each year. Half the deaths are suicides. Second, though, as this articular beautifully points out, the causes of gun death are multi-factored, nonetheless drastic reduction of the number of guns is absolutely necessary to a solution, despite the presence of other factors.Recommend

  • darrenlobo

    On the other hand if you look at the late 19th century the US murder rate was low around 1 per 100,000. http://extranosalley.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/1USHOMRATE8511.png No socialized health care, no treatment for mental illness, & no gun control. The murder rate went up as progressive era “reforms” took hold. This created a whole new set of social dynamics that caused susceptible people to turn to murder. That answers the question, murder rates go up when negative social dynamics impact on disturbed people.Recommend

  • Tessie

    There is some truth to what you are saying, BUT I think we can look at countries such as Canada for some answers. Canada requires a gun license and does a NATIONAL background check before allowing someone to have a license. Three people must also vouch for the individual (which makes it less likely for lone wolf individuals with mental illnesses to obtain a license). Finally, a license is not provided for a lifetime, the process must be done over every so many years. On the other hand, the US has a mix mox of laws separately governed by each state. In some states, people can purchase guns at gun shows without any background check whatsoever, however, even with a background check, it’s not always comprehensive. It’s clear that whatever the US is or is not doing, we have a HUGE problem. It’s time to look at relevant models and start doing something. Our congress spends millions on investigating the death of 4 people as a result of the Benghazi tragedy, but does next to nothing to curb the deaths of 12,000+ yearly in the US. It’s a travesty.Recommend

  • Tessie

    AgreeRecommend

  • Mirza Abir

    Amazing feature …Recommend

  • SRK

    Got your goat!!!! :) Don’t stew over my comment, but I bet you will think about what I said.Recommend

  • Hanif

    Right on!! These burger boys think they are still back home in Amreeca!! If you walk the streets of LAhore or Karachi, please stick to things we are impacted by! Have that courtesy or then publish in Amreecan sites.

    Who are you trying to impress by writing here?Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Mahar

    Gun control is nonsense Recommend

  • spencer60

    Interesting piece.

    The only part I’d really argue with is the focus on ‘gun murders’. In reality, murder rates are almost 100% correlated to population density.

    The fact that so many murders in the US are performed with guns is simply a side-effect of the fact that the US has a lot of firearms around. We probably have the lowest ‘cricket bat’ murder rate in the world.

    As with suicides, if a person intent on murdering someone can’t get one weapon, they will use another. This is why ‘knife crime’ in the UK fills the role of ‘gun crime’ in the US.

    And as an aside, a knife and an handgun are equally lethal, with a mortality rate of 17-20% for both.

    Murder rates are not really tied to the weapon used at all, and should be looked at as a whole. Something this article did a very good job with.Recommend

  • spencer60

    A couple of misconceptions here.

    First of all, there is no exception for transfers at gun shows. The whole ‘gun show loophole’ is pure propaganda.

    Maybe 20 years ago (before background checks were required at all), lots of individuals sold firearms at gun shows. Today that is a pretty rare occurrence.

    The only type of transfer that does not requires a background check is is between private individuals, no matter what the location.

    While this may sound like an issue, the US Dept of Justice did a study years ago showing that less than 4% of criminals were able to get a firearm from a private sale.

    The vast majority of these transfers are between people who know each other well. Typically they are family members, coworkers, friends or neighbors, etc.

    On the flip side most criminals don’t trust a private sale because they are afraid it is a law-enforcement setup or that the seller will notify the police if they are suspicious.

    That’s why the vast majority (well over 95%) of illegal firearms are either stolen, or purchased from a federally licensed store using a ‘straw buyer’ who can pass the background check.Recommend

  • spencer60

    It also shows that murder rates are directly tied to population (more specifically population density) than any other factor.Recommend

  • spencer60

    How do you get 300,000 people killed by US ‘gun violence’? I think you added an extra zero there.

    On average about 30,000 people a year are killed by firearms in the US.

    About 60% of those are suicides and 80% of the rest are criminal-on-criminal attacks.

    Neither of these numbers would really change if you immediately removed every firearm in the US, only the weapon used would.

    Today we have more guns (~300 million) in the hands of more people (~100 million) than ever before in US history.

    Yet we have the lowest violent crime and murder rates in 20-50 years. Even the accident rate for firearms is at a 100-year low.

    The whole myth of “less guns = less crime/violence/death” has been completely disproven by that one simple fact.

    While we cannot scientifically say that having more gun owners lowers crime, we can absolutely prove that it does not raise it.Recommend

  • spencer60

    Accidental child shootings are actually very rare.

    More kids die from choking on hot dogs each year, and doctors (through ‘medical misadventure’) kill an order of magnitude more. In fact according to the CDC, firearms aren’t even in their ‘top 20’.

    As for the ‘powerful NRA’, I wish they really did have the politicians in their pocket.

    However the NRA does have a powerful voice, in it’s members. That’s 5 million people who not only tell the NRA what to do, but their elected representatives as well.

    You see NRA members vote.

    They vote in every primary, every election, and their first ‘litmus test’ of a candidate is the 2nd Amendment. If they don’t support that, they probably won’t support the other Constitutional rights either.Recommend

  • Parvez

    A search tells me 593 children between the ages of 0 – 11 died in gun related accidents in 2015. The average child death by choking on a hot-dog is 77 in a year.
    I think its the NRA’s lobby in Washington that upholds the interest of the manufacturers and that needs to be controlled.
    I recall seeing Michael Moors ‘ Bowling for Columbine ‘ and he addressed this subject very well……..I thought it was his best work.Recommend

  • Msckkcsm

    My apologies for the wrong number. I had meant to say 300,000 per decade.Recommend

  • Msckkcsm

    To Spencer60: Your statement “Neither of these numbers would really change if you immediately removed every firearm in the US, only the weapon used would.” is not correct. Regarding suicides: These would certainly be greatly reduced if guns were out of the picture. The rate of suicide completion, and of severe injury from failure to complete, is much, much greater for attempts by guns than that of attempts by other means. Also, suicidally depressed people make fewer attempts when a gun is not available. I also question your claim of “proof” that eliminating hundreds of millions of guns would not greatly reduce violent death and injury. That flies in the face of both common sense and a great deal of evidence.Recommend