Jack DeVine / June 9, 2022

American ‘Gun Violence’ Unpacked

Nobody wants “gun violence,” which is primarily gang and thug violence — but the measures being debated in Congress, however “sensible,” won’t make a dent.

Yes, we have a major violence problem in the U.S. — I don’t know anyone, left or right, who disagrees. But to deal intelligently and effectively with that problem, we need to know a little bit more about it.

It all sounds so simple, at least as explained by progressive politicians and media talkingheads. We’re told that the root cause of American “gun violence” is that we have too many guns — more per capita than nearly every country on earth; that mass shootings are commonplace and are killing our children in their classrooms; and that If we just keep guns out of the wrong hands, the violence will cease.

But let’s take a closer look. Every year in the U.S., more than 40,000 deaths are associated with firearms — but under widely varying circumstances, as follows:

  • Although accounting for only a tiny fraction of gun-related events, the ones that have transfixed the nation and prompted today’s fierce debates about gun control are the pre-meditated mass killings such as at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and the Tops Market in Buffalo, New York. These tragic events are very rare but very high profile.

In my perspective, these are essentially acts of terrorism. They are wholly incompatible with civilized life, and we must seek to stamp them out.

I can’t imagine what combination of motives — anger, despair, resentment, social rejection, quest for glory, or maybe just raw evil — could possibly induce one human being to casually take the lives of perfect strangers. Perhaps it’s unfair to equate a very disturbed young man like the Uvalde assailant with a jihadist suicide bomber, but they deliver the same outcome: senseless carnage.

Terrorists don’t kill because there are weapons available — killing is their obsession, and they inevitably find the weapons to pull it off, whether guns, vehicles, bombs, or other.

The best way to defend against unexpected attacks from any direction is to prevent unauthorized access just as we do for airplanes, municipal buildings, museums, and other attractive targets — the reality of life in dangerous times.

  • More than half of firearm deaths each year are suicides.

That’s a very disturbing statistic, but it reflects a mental health issue, not a gun violence one. For those individuals, the preferred instrument of suicide is an available gun. Americans’ mental health is a growing problem, but gun control has nothing to do with it.

  • The balance of U.S. gun deaths, nearly 20,000 annually, are the result of street crime — gang warfare, late-night fights in bars or night clubs, drive-by shootings. Victims include participants and bystanders alike. Such altercations are often fueled by alcohol and drugs and are inherently dangerous because because the actors are sociopaths with deadly weapons.

Violence of that sort has been present in our society for years, and the perpetrators have no inclination whatsoever to comply with gun laws, existing or new.

This is primarily a law-and-order issue. It calls for aggressive policing (invariably supported by the often-victimized local residents), and it must be backed up by prosecutors willing to prosecute, judges willing to convict, and mayors who support all of them.

A decade ago in New York City, the practice called “stop-and-frisk” consistently took illicit guns and their users off the streets. Untold lives were saved, until leftist NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio terminated that practice.

And so, how do the gun control measures under consideration in the Congress fit into that picture?

They nibble around the edges. If well-structured and properly implemented, they could help — but they don’t get to the core of the problem. For example, red flag laws may prevent another unstable, troubled young man from copying the example of the Uvalde assailant. But identifying and acting on a potentially serious threat, in advance, is vastly more difficult that connecting the dots after the damage is done. Ditto with longer or more thorough background checks. These are safety nets with big holes.

As for banning so-called “assault rifles,” of the 20,000 gun-related murders in the U.S. last year, very few assailants used long guns of any description. If all of those weapons were banned, there would be little or no impact on murder rates.

The fact is, what mainstream media outlets ubiquitously refer to as “gun violence” is primarily a violence problem, not a gun problem — and it is rooted in serious underlying culture issues.

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