Mass shootings in the U.S.

Did I move to a dangerous place? Should I go back where it is so much safer?

When I moved to the U.S. my German friends and family worried that a country where everybody is allowed to carry guns could get me killed. But although the U.S. is the leading country in mass shootings and death by gunfire, there are still many states where life is just fine.

 

Definition of mass shootings

To my surprise, there doesn’t seem to be a broadly accepted definition of a mass shooting - at least not here in the U.S. Publications often refer to the FBI’s definition of a mass murder that describes it as four or more people being killed by firearms (not including the shooter) during the same incident. Some statistics exclude in their definition of a mass shooting incidents that occur in connection with some other crime, like gang killings. Organizations and media also disagree on the number of fatalities, whether the death of the shooter should be included or not, and whether injured people should be part of the definition.

That is why we find so many statistics with different numbers in the media. They might all be more or less correct; we just always have to consider what definition of a mass shooting the producer of each statistic uses.

Personally, I would include injured people and gang and domestic killings in the definition of a mass shooting. It just terrifies me so much every time when I hear about a new incident that counting only the persons killed feels like downplaying the horror of these terrible incidents.

 

Mass shootings in America 

So, unfortunately, (nothing is ever easy with statistics), based on different definitions, there are also different statistics available that people/politicians/lobbyists use to support their point. Depending on what these peoples’ goal might be (supporting gun rights or fighting them), totally different numbers are mentioned.

Variation in how mass shootings are defined and counted

Source

Casualty Threshold (for injuries or deaths by firearm)

Location of Incident

Motivation of Shooter

Number of U.S. Mass Shootings in 2017

Number of victims fatality/injured

Mother Jones

Three fatal injuries (excluding shooter)

Public

Indiscriminate (excludes crimes of armed robbery, gang violence, or domestic violence)

11

 

117/587

Gun Violence Archive

Four fatal or nonfatal injuries (excluding shooter)

Any

Any

346

437/1803

Mass shootings in the world

Finding comparable data for mass shootings worldwide is really difficult – at least for me. It is not only a question of how each country defines mass shootings (and sometimes the same country uses different definitions – like the U.S.) but also how they collect data and how reliable those statistics are. To get at least a rough impression of gun-related killings (I couldn’t find any verifiable comparison about mass shootings data), I used the data from gunpolicy.org and created the following chart. It shows the rate of all gun deaths per 100,000 People in 2011 in the U.S., Switzerland, France, Canada, Germany, and the U.K.

Rate of gun deaths per 100,000 People in 2011

http://www.gunpolicy.org/

But wherever I looked, no matter which data base or time frame I searched, data show that the United States is the leading country for gun related deaths. 

Reasons for mass shootings

All statistics seem to point in one direction: the more people have guns the more get killed by guns. The stricter the gun laws, the lower the number of gunfire related killings. But on the other hand, large metro areas with the most prohibitive gun laws often have the most gun violence: Chicago, Washington DC, Detroit, etc. But again, those are metro areas, not states.

I think it is really interesting that the U.S. does NOT have a higher criminal rate than other countries. According to an Article in the New York Times, it is just as likely for a New Yorker to be robbed as it is for a Londoner. But the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed during that robbery.

But pro-gun people argue that these are only fake statistics. They think that the decline of moral values is the real reason for mass shootings and criminality. They argue that guns have always been easily available in the U.S., but mass shootings were never a problem for their ancestors. And they also argue that, although almost everybody in the U.S. has the right to carry a gun, not every state has the same number of firearm-related victims. For many pro-gun people, the lack of respect for the law is the real problem and should be addressed – by giving people even more and easier access to guns.

But I have to mention that the U.S. is not the country with the highest rate of gun-related violent deaths in the world. In 2016 El Salvador had a rate of 40.29, Venezuela had a rate of 34.77, and Guatemala’s rate was 26.81 according to a statistic of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. But these numbers don’t seem to reflect gun ownership, but rather   the high drug trafficking that takes place in these countries.

And other countries had and have to face mass shootings, too, but they made legal decisions to tighten the controls over gun ownership. The United States never noticeably changed their gun laws on a federal level, no matter how many have been killed or otherwise affected by mass shootings. But there are states that did change their laws and practice strict gun laws nowadays.

The ten states with the strictest and most lenient gun laws and the correlation between gun laws and gun deaths

GUN LAW STRENGTH (RANKED)

1=strict

50=loose

STATE

GUN DEATH RATE (RANKED)

1=highest

50=lowest

GUN DEATH RATE (PER 100K)

1

California

43

7.9

2

New Jersey

45

5.5

3

Connecticut

46

4.6

4

Massachusetts

50

3.4

5

New York

48

4.4

6

Maryland

32

11.8

7

Hawaii

47

4.5

8

Illinois

34

11.6

9

Rhode Island

49

4

10

Washington

41

9

41

Vermont

36

11

42

Kentucky

13

17.5

43

Louisiana

3

21.2

44

Alaska

1

23

45

Wyoming

11

17.5

46

Idaho

19

14.6

47

Arizona

16

15.2

48

Kansas

23

13.3

48

Missouri

7

18.8

50

Mississippi

4

19.8

Giffords Law Center: Annual Gun Law Scorecard

For many Americans owning a gun is a matter of freedom. If a government would restrict their right to carry and own a gun, they feel that America as a free country would be in danger. Guns are an important part of their identity. And how could something as valuable as personal freedom be the cause for such terrible consequences?

Even Andrew, my husband, would not want to change the peoples’ right to carry a weapon. He understands why people feel so strongly about the 2nd Amendment but he would never want a weapon for himself (lucky me – I would freak out with a gun in my house).  But he would support reconsidering some of the gun laws--especially looking at ways to keep them out of the hands of mentally ill people and those with criminal histories

What does the 2nd Amendment mean?

The second amendment is  an important argument for gun activists to defend the American right to bear arms. But like many other legal texts, especially the ones that were written a long time ago, it is not as clear as many make it out to be.

The amendment reads: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Courts, attorneys, lobbyists, and many people more have fought over what this text exactly means. Some argue that the text emphasizes that every single person has the right to bear arms and others say that the amendment allows states to have a well-regulated militia that consists of people who bear arms.

But something changed in 2008. The Supreme Court ruled on the District of Columbia v Heller, overturning a handgun ban in the city. According to The Guardian, for the first time in the country’s history, the Supreme Court explicitly affirmed an individual’s right to keep a weapon at home for self-defense.

Although the Supreme Court has declined to hear any second amendment cases since 2010, there is no end to this discussion. Every mass shooting ignites the call for stricter gun laws again. But so far, no significant action has been taken, thanks to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its supporters. The NRA employs lobbyists all over the U.S. and is very successful in influencing politicians and organizations to vote against stricter gun laws.

 

What is the National Rifle Association? 

  • Founded in 1871 as a recreational group to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.” Back then it was important for this organization to develop a practice ground by building a rifle ranch.
  • Since the beginning of the 20th century, the NRA has developed a very successful youth program by organizing NRA shooting sports events.
  • In the 1930s the NRA began to engage politically. They started mailing members with information about upcoming firearms bills.
  • The NRA supported several gun-related bills but became even more politically active in the 1970s by internally organizing a committee that helped to funnel funds efficiently to legislators.
  • Has almost 5 million members, according to their own website.

Although the NRA has money to influence legislators, this organization is by far not the biggest spender in the political arena, and also does not have the most revenue.

Just a few numbers to compare:

Top Lobbying Organizations, 2017

Rank

Organization

Total Lobbying

1

US Chamber of Commerce

$82,190,000

2

National Assn of Realtors

$54,530,861

3

Business Roundtable

$27,380,000

4

Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America

$25,847,500

5

Blue Cross/Blue Shield

$24,330,306

6

American Hospital Assn

$22,094,214

7

American Medical Assn

$21,535,000

8

Alphabet Inc

$18,150,000

9

AT&T Inc

$16,780,000

10

Boeing Co

$16,740,000

??

National Rifle Association

$5,122,000

Courtesy of Center of Responsive Politics, www.opensecrets.org

According to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), a research group that maintains a public online database of information and tracks the effects of money and lobbying on public policy, the NRA is far from being the biggest spender on lobbying. The National Association of Realtors spent almost 11 times as much on lobbying as the NRA in 2017. So, money does not seem to be the only answer to the question of why the NRA is so successful.  

One of the reasons for it being so influential is that this organization covers a very emotional topic: the pride and individual right of being an American. Neither pharmacists nor realtors represent such an emotional topic. Knowing this makes it understandable that the NRA is very good at organizing its base to influence local and state elections. This organization excels in getting its candidates into office because people who believe that the right to own a gun is directly connected to their right of being an American are not only willing to vote, but also open to volunteer for their candidates and support them in their candidacy for Congress.

But, going forward, there is one issue that this organization has to face. Right now its main supporters are older white males. Since younger people and immigrants seem to favor stricter gun control, it might be only a matter of time that the political agenda of the NRA changes.

 

The safest states in America

Of course, it is not so simple to answer the question of which states are the safest to live in in the U.S. It depends on the data or which criteria are most important for you.

Since this article is about mass shootings, it is of some value to take a look at the rate of violent crimes that the FBI provides. Their data gives us a good overview with plenty of criminal statistics. Vermont and Maine have the smallest rates of violent crime; Nevada and Alaska have the highest rate.

The five safest and the five most violent states in the U.S., based on the FBI’s violent crime rate for 2014.

Rank

State

Violent crime Rate per 100,000

1

     Vermont

99.3

2

     Maine

127.8

3

     Wyoming

195.5

4

     New Hampshire

196.1

5

     Virginia

196.2

46

     Florida

540.5

47

     New Mexico

597.4

48

     Tennessee

608.4

49

     Nevada

635.6

50

     Alaska

635.8

FBI

WalletHub also developed a ranking of states in order to determine which states are the safest. WalletHub used a complicated ranking system that takes not only criminal statistics into account but also financial, road, and workplace safety, and emergency preparedness. They mixed data from different years into their calculations.

But even if their ranking seems to be quite complicated, it gives us a good overview of which state offers the best or least benefits in certain categories. It’s worth taking a look at that table. And if we would only look at their criminal rate ranking, it correlates closely to what the FBI has published.

The five most and least safest states in the U.S. based on WalletHub’s ranking

Rank

State

Total Score at WalletHub

1

Vermont

65.09

2

Maine

62.46

3

Massachusetts

62.03

4

Minnesota

61.78

5

New Hampshire

61.48

46

Missouri

39.9

47

South Carolina

39.21

48

Oklahoma

38.11

49

Louisiana

35.73

50

Mississippi

30.7

Wallethub: 2018's Safest States in America 

My experience with guns in America 

There is only one word that I can say about my experience with guns in the U.S.: NONE.

I live in a state that has rather lenienent gun laws and not that many gun owners compared to some other states. But there are supposedly quite a lot of hunters who live off shooting wild animals. But I have not seen anyone wearing a gun here yet. I guess that is because people use their guns mainly for hunting purposes, but not when they go to get their groceries at Walmart. And whenever I hear Mainers talking about guns, they strongly oppose having them at home or at work or anywhere else.

But Mainers, overall, are very pro-gun. I just don’t seem to meet these people. Whenever someone tries to pass a gun law here, people come out of the woodwork to oppose it. And it's not a political party thing. Democrats (mostly in rural Maine), Republicans, and Independents are all very protective of their gun rights. Maine is HUGE on guns and gun rights!

But the company I work for has a policy that demands that people keep their guns away from their workplace, and if they have a gun in their car on the company’s parking lot they are required to keep it concealed. And I often see signs that don’t allow guns on a business’ property.

Even before I knew about the statistics that prove what a safe place Maine is to live in, I always felt safe here because there are no guns in my life. That’s why I would recommend moving to one of the New England states if you are worried about shootings.

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