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Editorial: What We Talk About When We Talk About Guns

5 mins read

Last Saturday, 11 members of the Jewish community of Pittsburgh were killed by gunfire and five more were injured during a Saturday morning prayer service. Last Wednesday, an armed gunman attempted to enter a predominantly black church and, when denied entry, killed two African Americans in a Kroger grocery store outside Louisville, Kentucky.

At the time of this writing, there have been 297 mass shootings — a phrase defined by the Gun Violence Archive as a single incident in which four or more people, not including the shooter, are “shot and/or killed” at “the same general time and location” — in 2018 alone. By the end of this year, 12,000 Americans will have been killed in targeted, intentional shootings — in addition to over 20,000 who will die by gun suicide.

Each time a shooting occurs, our wheels begin to spin in the same way. This week has been no different.  Commentators and news analysts on networks across the political spectrum have sought to find the cause of the violence. It’s all that “Call of Duty,” right? No, we’re just a more polarized country than other places. Looks like Americans just do more crimes.

The one thing we’re not talking about? Gun control.

Since the Pittsburgh shooting, and last week’s series of attempted pipe bomb attacks, the news cycle has been dominated by Trump’s role in the shooting — whether or not his rhetoric fueled the attacks, the Trump stickers found on the aggressors’ cars. But political discourse, even from the left, hasn’t focused on the most proximate cause of these shootings: the guns themselves.

In November 2017, The New York Times ran a comprehensive article considering a range of explanations on why the United States has such a high rate of gun deaths. In the piece, they debunked notions that mental health treatment, use of violent video games, rates of social cohesion and immigration, or propensity for crime set the United States apart from other developed countries. Yet the United States has rates of gun violence significantly higher than other nations — anywhere from five times higher than Switzerland to 300 times higher than Japan. Why? Because we have more guns.

The United States has nearly 90 guns per 100 people. That means Americans currently own 270 million guns. The next leading country, Yemen, has just over 50 guns per 100 people — which amounts to a total of around 14 million guns. No other country has more than 35 guns per 100 people.

This is what sets the United States apart. It’s not our polarization, our racial tensions, or our mental health care. It’s our guns.

And yet, the sheer frequency of gun deaths in our country seems to have desensitized us. A search on Google Trends shows no change in the number of searches for “gun control” and related terms following the Louisville or Pittsburgh shootings. We are talking about the attacks — the same search shows roughly a 20 percent increase in searches for “racism” and a 1000 percent increase in searches for antisemitism. But the last rise in searches for gun control came after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Since then, searches slowly decreased and have now flatlined.

We need common sense gun control measures, and we need them now. There are going to be racist Americans, antisemitic Americans, and Americans with improper mental healthcare for a long time. But we have allowed these prejudices to turn into deaths, injuries, crimes. While we work on healing our national divisions and removing systemic oppression, we also need to take weapons of war off our streets.

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