What’s Really Behind America’s Gun Violence Problem?

It’s no secret that the United States is facing an epidemic of gun violence. In 2015, there were over 353 mass-shootings, events in which over 4 persons were shot, in the United States.

Whenever a significant mass shooting (the fact that I have to preface mass shooting with significant is disturbing sign of the times) occurred, such as the Oregon campus shooting or the radicalized San Bernardino shooting, a few things were certain in the political aftermath:

  • President Obama and Democrats would urge Republicans to come together and pass  gun-reform, such as increasing background checks or a ban on assault weapons,
  • Republicans and other Conservatives, fearing an Australia-esque conspiracy to rob Americans of their 2nd Amendment rights, disagreed and would call for more gun ownership (the “good guy with a gun is better than a bad guy with a gun” argument) and that the real problem was mental illness, and,
  • Nothing would get done, and when another shooting occurred, the process would go back to Step 1 and repeat.

The President recently took this inaction into his own hands, with an executive order on gun control that did the following:

  • Enhance the background check procedure, by requiring all sellers, from gun shows to online dealers, to get a license and conduct background checks,
  • Encourage law enforcement to enforce the current gun laws and provide more funds for investigating illegal firearms trafficking,
  • Increase investment into mental health clinics and include more information of a buyer’s mental health in background checks, and
  • Directed the Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Justice, and the Dept. of Homeland Security to research into gun safety technology, such as fingerprint-secured firearms.
Obama-Gun-Violence
An emotional President Obama announces his executive order on gun control

While these reforms are steps in the right direction and contain aspects both liberals and conservatives alike should support, these orders merely scratch the surface of the gun violence epidemic this nation faces, and fail to address the real underlying causes.

If you’re a gun-control activist and are reading this, this is probably where you go, “YEAH WE NEED TO GET RID OF ALL GUNS.” Or conversely, if you’re a gun-rights activist and are reading this, this is probably where you go, “GET YOUR FILTHY HANDS OFF MY GUNS, WE NEED MORE GUNS FOR PROTECTION.”

And this is where I go, “you’re both wrong.”

I’m of the belief that gun violence is not so much an isolated issue, but is a symptom of deeper problems present in the nation. Gun violence has less to do with the amount of guns present, but more to do with the systemic inequalities and prejudices embedded in a nation. The data backs this assumption up.

Gun-control activists argue that less guns in a society should result in less gun-related deaths (homicides, accidents, suicides, etc.), while gun-rights activists argue the converse is true. Luckily, one can easily access complete data regarding both gun-ownership and gun-related deaths worldwide of 71 countries.

Plotting a nation’s gun-ownership vs. firearm-related deaths and running basic regression analysis produces some shocking results. While there is a positive correlation between gun-related deaths and gun-ownership rates, the correlation is very weak, with a correlation coefficient of 0.0843, which is nothing to brag about. (A correlation coefficient close to 0 signifies no correlation, while one near 1 is a perfect correlation).

gun deaths 1

However, if the variable of gun-ownership is replaced with the nation’s GINI coefficient, a measure of income-inequality in the certain nation, which could also could be used as a quantitative measure of overall tension in a nation.

When plotted, a nation’s GINI coefficient is a significantly larger indicator of a nation’s gun-related deaths than a nation’s gun-ownership, with a moderately strong correlation coefficient of 0.5487.

gun deaths 2

Now this does not necessarily prove there’s a direct cause-and-effect relationship between income inequality, but we do have reason to believe it is a significant factor. Research has shown gun violence is strongly correlated with poverty in the United States.

Could it also be that gun violence is also a result of a character problem in the United States?

I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to argue that increasingly paranoid rhetoric by American politicians has created a culture that is more willing to pull the trigger. From the so-common motif that President Obama is out to take Americans guns away,  to “Stand Your Ground” legislation, to “us vs. them” rhetoric from both sides that has contributed to racial tension that hasn’t been seen since the 1960s, to the non-stop cable news coverage of every little detail of shootings, it’s not surprising the level of gun violence in the United States.

Take for example, the graphic that was published by Sarah Palin’s PAC in the run-up to the 2010 midterm elections. The graphic showed crosshairs over competitive districts where incumbent Democrats had voted for the Affordable Care Act, including the district of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was later shot in Tuscon in January 2011.

Shot Congresswoman Was In Sarah Palin's 'Crosshairs'

Am I saying that Palin encouraged voters to shoot Giffords? No, but I don’t understand how any sort of abhorrent violent rhetoric like putting crosshairs over districts of representatives that voted for healthcare reform is in anyway productive for bi-partisanship and unity in the nation.

So what’s to be done to solve this issue? Obviously, this is easier said than done, but I believe there are practical reforms that could be implemented that would have great potential to make the United States of America more united and less stricken by gun-violence.

Firstly, investing in low-income communities in ways like increasing funding for schools, creating public works programs, and providing more opportunities for children born in these areas to attend college can tackle income-inequality.

Efforts to change the nation’s outdated and generally racially-biased drug laws would also be a step in the right direction to curb racial tensions.

Encouraging cable news networks to focus their coverage of shootings more on mourning the victims and less on creating a biographical film about the shooter could lessen the effect of the “martyr” image that provides inspiration for future shooters.

Lastly, I would argue that if Washington politicians changed their partisan rhetoric and instead focused on compassion for their fellow Americans, engaged in legitimate policy debates instead of ad hominem attacks or scapegoating minorities, or try to encourage conspiracy theories about the opposing party, these unifying sentiments might ripple through the nation.

Photo Credit: Scott Olson / Getty Images / Carolyn Kaster /AP / NPR / Gawker

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