In the last six weeks, the USA has been rocked by two of the worst mass-shootings in its history, claiming dozens of lives and injuring many more. While these shootings are truly horrific national tragedies, they do not represent the true crisis of gun crime in the USA. While the media focuses on these acts of mass-violence because of the sheer number of dead in a single attack, thousands of individual gun murders remain uncovered and unconnected by the media to the greater crisis we face.
Before talking about this crisis, here is a short primer on the two mass shootings I have already referred to:
At around 10PM on the night of October 1st, Stephen Paddock opened fire on a country music festival from his 32nd floor room at the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas. He was armed with 23 firearms, many of which had been legally modified with “bump stocks” which converted them from semi-automatic assault rifles to fully automatic rifles. Over his hour-long rampage, he killed 58 concertgoers and injured almost 550 more before taking his own life. There is no known motive for his actions.
At around 11:30 on the afternoon of November 5th, Devin Patrick Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX, with an AR-15 assault rifle and opened fire. He killed 25 people (one of whom was pregnant at the time and whose fetus died) and injured 20 more before leaving, at which point he was shot at by a local marksmanship instructor named Stephen Willeford. He fled in his car, pursued by Willeford, and killed himself with a gunshot to head, causing his car to crash. Kelley was a disgraced Air Force logistics officer who was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged after abusing both his wife and stepson. While he shouldn’t have been legally allowed to buy a gun due to his record, the Air Force failed to enter his conviction into national databases, letting him slide past the background checks.
The Scope of the Gun Crisis
While these two shootings are horrific and have high death tolls as single events, they are only a drop in the bucket for gun violence in the USA. The media covers these high death toll attacks as an aberration, but the sad reality is that far more people are killed in random small-scale gun violence than these large attacks that receive all the coverage.
For example, according to a count by the Chicago Tribune, 593 people have been murdered this year, making it the 2nd most deadly year in the city since 2003 (last year had 681 homicides). Most of these murders were committed with guns, and the Tribune also notes that 3,200 Chicago residents have been non-fatally shot this year on top of these deaths. This is just one year in one city, which should give you a little perspective on how high the overall death toll is.
The situation in Chicago isn’t unique. According to the Baltimore Sun, as of October, 278 Baltimore residents have been murdered this year, while 547 suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds. Similarly, 303 Detroit residents were murdered in 2016, while 957 were non-fatally shot (and that was a 3-year low).
Despite the fact that this distributed violence dramatically overshadows any mass shooting, the fact that it is spread out and seen as disconnected from a greater trend means that few media outlets decide to cover it. In most cases, these deaths are only covered by local media outlets and towards the end of the year as an aggregate number, devoid of context. It is the proverbial boiling frog situation, where people notice the crisis when it hits fast and in an acute event, rather than over time.
This isn’t to say that it is wrong to focus on the mass shooting epidemic in the USA (which is unique in the developed world); merely that we cannot let the media focus EXCLUSIVELY on these mass shootings while ignoring the thousands of dead who go unnamed and unreported. In just the three cities that I mentioned—Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit—1,174 Americans were killed (most of whom with guns) and 4,704 were non-fatally shot in a criminal act…in just a single year. These were not shootings like Sandy Hook, Mandalay Bay, or Sutherland Spring, but rather a steady flow of smaller killings that add up over time.
To truly address the gun violence crisis in the USA, we need to run a two-pronged offensive—one focusing on the mass shooters who try to rack up a massive body count in a single attack, and one focusing on the decentralized and chronic violent consequences of a nation awash in guns. Only by stopping both types of gun violence can we attain a safer nation, while losing the terrible distinction as the only developed nation that is so gun crazy that it is willing to accept thousands of dead each year as the price of doing business. © Josh Sager – November 2017
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