It’s a lonely vigil that the activists from No More Names keep outside the Houston Convention Center. They read the names of Americans killed by gunfire in the U.S. since the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Heather Ross doesn’t seem fazed by being ignored. What does faze her is how long it can take her to read all the names of those killed in one day. Ross says some days can take 20 to 30 minutes.
“You would just look at the whole list and it kept going and going and going and going. … It just doesn’t end,” she says.
There are some victims who are not quite 1 year old, and others have no name or age at all, Ross says. For them, she reads, “No name, no age.”
“You just know where they died. That’s horrible,” she says. “Can you imagine if you died and no one knew who you were — they have no identity for you? They pull people in to identify you and they can’t because your face is gone and there’s nothing?”
As the young woman, raw with emotion, stands in the wind, thousands of people stream by without noticing her, eager to get inside to the NRA convention.
By the time the nation confronted the unthinkable school massacre in Connecticut last December, Mother Jones’ groundbreaking investigation of mass shootings, launched the prior summer, had shown that mass gun violence in America was on the rise. The trend appeared to be no coincidence in light of the proliferation of guns and looser gun laws nationwide. One leading criminologist took issue with our criteria, arguing that mass shootings had not become more common. But now, research from an expert on criminal justice at Texas State University further shows that gun rampages in the United States have escalated.
The research, to be published in a book in July, further confirms that:
Public shooting rampages have spiked in particular over the last few years
Many of the attackers were heavily armed
None of the shootings was stopped by an ordinary citizen using a gun
The author of the study, Pete Blair, advises law enforcement officials and has conducted extensive research on gun rampages in workplaces, schools, and other public locations. He gathered data on 84 “active shooter events” (ASEs) between 2000 and 2010 in which the killer’s primary motive appeared to be mass murder. This chart shows his findings on the frequency of cases:
As lawmakers across the country and in the nation’s capital debate possible restrictions on high-capacity magazines, one question emerges: Are these ammunition feeding devices, which allow a shooter to fire many times without reloading, in fact commonly used by mass killers? We examined the data from Mother Jones’ continuing investigation into mass shootings and found that high-capacity magazines have been used in at least 31 of the 62 cases we analyzed. A half-dozen of these crimes occurred in the last two years alone. (With some of the cases we studied, it remains unclear whether high capacity magazines were used; for more details, jump to our data set below.)
In the shooting that injured Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Jared Loughner emptied a 33-round magazine in 30 seconds, killing 6 and injuring 13. Inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, James Holmes used 40- and 100-round magazines to injure and kill an unprecedented 70 victims. At Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Adam Lanza used high-capacity magazines to fire upwards of 150 bullets as he slaughtered 20 kids and 6 adults.
“It turns a killer into a killing machine,” says David Chipman, who served for 25 years as a special agent in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Outlawing high capacity magazines won’t prevent gun crimes from happening, Chipman notes, but might well reduce the carnage: “Maybe three kids get killed instead of 20.”
As a society, our first task must be to care for our children — to shield them from harm and give them the tools they need not only to pursue their dreams, but to help build this country. That is how we will be judged. And in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, it’s clear we have a long way to go.
That’s why, last month, I asked Vice President Biden to lead an effort to come up with concrete steps we can take right now to keep our kids safe, help prevent mass shootings, and reduce the broader epidemic of gun violence in this country. And on Wednesday, I put forward a specific set of proposals based on Joe’s recommendations. Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence — if even one life can be saved — we have an obligation to try.
As President, I’m committed to doing my part. That’s why I signed 23 executive actions giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals, and the public health community the tools they need to help reduce gun violence.
Mass shootings have been increasing even as more NRA members are openly and concealed carrying and even while there are more legal guns on the street than ever before. Something must be wrong with Wayne LaPierre’s “Good guys with guns” hypothesis.
The gut-wrenching shock of the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14 wasn’t just due to the 20 unthinkably young victims. It was also due to the realization that this specific, painfully familiar nightmare was unfolding yet again.
As the scope of the massacre in Newtown became clear, some news accounts suggested that mass shootings in the United States have not increased, based on a broad definition of them. But in fact 2012 has been unprecedented for a particular kind of horror that’s been on the rise in recent years, from Virginia Tech to Tucson to Aurora to Oak Creek to Newtown. There have been at least 62 such mass shootings in the last three decades, attacks in which the killer took the lives of four or more people (the FBI’s baseline for mass murder) in a public place—a school, a workplace, a mall, a religious building. Seven of them have occurred this year alone.
Along with three other similar though less lethal rampages—at a Portland shopping mall, a Milwaukee spa, and a Cleveland high school—2012 has been the worst year for these events in modern US history, with 151 victims injured and killed. More than a quarter of them were young children and teenagers.
The National Rifle Association and its allies would have us believe that the solution to this epidemic, itself but a sliver of America’s overall gun violence, is to put firearms in the hands of as many citizens as possible. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” declared the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre in a press conference a week after Newtown, the same day bells tolled at the National Cathedral and the devastated town mourned its 28 dead. (That day a gunman in Pennsylvania also murdered three people and wounded a state trooper shortly before LaPierre gave his remarks.) LaPierre explained that it was a travesty for a school principal to face evil unarmed, and he called for gun-wielding security officers to be deployed in every school in America.
As many commentators noted, it was particularly callous of the NRA to double down on its long-standing proposal to fight gun violence with more guns while parents in Newtown were burying their first graders.
I’ve not written anything for a few days because, well, I’ve been trying to organise what I think about the awfulness of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Trying, also, to find a way of writing about it that seems appropriate. There are moments, I think, when a too-polished piece of prose risks seeming distastefully narcissistic, too close to being from the School of Martin Amis. I remember Amis describing the “sharking” trajectory of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center more than a decade ago and thinking that, as apt and vivid as the image was, there was something unpleasant about it. Something that suggested the author was too admiring of his own imagery. The event made self-consciously fine writing seem superfluous and even oddly obscene.
And yet writing nothing is not quite possible either. We have, after all, been here before. For me, it was a cold, damp, spring morning in Blacksburg, Virginia five years ago. Recalling it now, it is the quiet I remember most. Hollow-eyed students, numbed by the horror of it all, gathered in Virginia Tech’s public places, offering each other what comfort they could. No-one spoke at much above a whisper; no-one knew what there was to say. Telling the story never felt so intrusive, so unseemly, so pornographic. The bald facts were - or should have been - enough. As a reporter, I felt guilty just being there.
There have been other mass shootings since and there will be others again. Ranking these horrors is grotesque but this massacre in Newtown is even worse, if that can be said at all, than all these previous miseries. If my experience is at all common, you will have seen parents, wherever in the world they live and whatever their nationality, posting messages on Facebook or Twitter giving thanks that their children were safe that night. It was awful and it made me cry.
If you have a history of bar fights and domestic violence, you probably shouldn’t have a gun. If you’ve tried suicide in the past, you probably shouldn’t have a gun. I’m sure that some of you can think of other reasonable restrictions and limits.
On July 20, a gunman in Aurora, Colorado, used an assault rifle to murder 12 people and wound 58 others. Although this was one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, all mass shootings account for a small percentage of gun violence that occurs in the U.S. every day. In the past 100 days since the Aurora shooting, an estimated 3,035 Americans have died as a result of gun violence.
A new report by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examines policies and initiatives for reducing gun violence in the U.S. by reforming current gun policies. The report, a synthesis of prior research and analysis conducted by researchers with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, includes the following key findings:
Easy access to firearms with large-capacity magazines facilitates higher casualties in mass shootings.
“Right-to-carry” gun laws do not reduce violent crime.
Prohibiting high-risk groups from having guns-criminals, perpetrators of domestic violence, youths under age 21, substance abusers, and those with severe mental illnesses-and closing loopholes that enable them to have guns are integral and politically feasible steps to reduce gun violence.
“Mass shootings bring public attention to the exceptionally high rate of gun violence in the U.S., but policy discussions rarely focus on preventing the daily gun violence that results in an average of 30 lives lost every day,” said Daniel Webster, ScD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research and lead author of the report. “Addressing weaknesses in existing gun laws by expanding prohibitions for criminals, perpetrators of domestic violence, youth, and drug abusers, and closing the loopholes that allow prohibited persons to obtain guns can be effective strategies to reduce gun violence. It is important to note that making these changes to our gun laws would not disarm law-abiding adults.”
According to the report, guns were used to kill more than 31,000 people in 2010, including more than 11,000 homicides. The homicide rate in the U.S. is seven times higher than the average of all other high-income countries because the U.S. firearm homicide rates are 22 times higher. A 2012 study examined the direct and indirect costs of violent crime in eight geographically diverse U.S. cities, and found that the annual cost of violent crime averages more than $1,300 for every adult and child.
The authors point to numerous weaknesses in current gun laws in the U.S., which make it harder to keep guns from high-risk individuals. For example, compared to other age groups, 18- to 20- year-olds are the most likely to commit homicides, yet only five out of 50 states prohibit this age group from possessing handguns. Additionally, the report identifies several federal laws that have been enacted to protect licensed gun sellers from oversight and reduce sanctions for law violations, and a key loophole that exempts gun purchasers from background checks if they buy guns from private sellers.
The report cites studies which found that fixing lax gun laws reduces gun violence and associated costs. When states expand firearm prohibitions to high-risk groups and adopt comprehensive measures to prevent diversion of guns to prohibited persons, fewer guns are diverted to criminals and there is less violence.
While some polls indicate declining public support for stricter gun laws, Webster cautions against inferring that the majority of the U.S. public doesn’t want lawmakers to fix weaknesses in current laws.
“Many people don’t realize that, in most states, individuals convicted of violent misdemeanors, and those who were previously subject to court-issued restraining orders for domestic violence, or who have a serious history of mental illness or substance abuse, can legally possess firearms,” said Webster. “Federal gun laws allow private gun sellers to sell their guns with no questions asked of purchasers or proof that the purchaser has passed a criminal background check. Survey research shows that 82 percent of gun owners want that loophole fixed.”
“As a country, we have been through this too many times,” said President Barack Obama on Friday afternoon as he wiped tears from his eyes while addressing the horrific shooting at a Connecticut elementary school. He might have added, “this year.” Because it’s not your imagination—while mass shootings have terrified and grieved us over the past three decades, this year has been the worst by far. With more than 140 casualties (injuries and deaths), the toll from mass shootings in 2012 has been nearly twice that of any other year.
And that isn’t even counting other shootings that have captured national attention, such as the attack in a Portland-area mall this past weekend or the gunfire at a suburban Cleveland high school in the spring. The FBI defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four people are killed, not including the gunman, so those incidents don’t count in the statistics. It can be difficult to get a sense of the scope of mass gun violence when we look at individual tragedies—especially when, as now, it is so hard to get past the heart-stopping thought of all those children and all those families. So let’s look at the facts, the hard numbers.
As of today, there have been 70 mass shootings in the United States between 1982 and 2012, leaving 543 people dead (assuming the reports of 27 fatalities from today’s shootings are correct.) Seven of those 70 shootings occurred this year. Sixty-eight of those 543 victims were killed this year. If the scenes of horror and heartbreak are now familiar, it’s because the past six years have been particularly bloody. Fully 45% of the victims of mass shootings in America over the past three decades were killed since 2007. That is a crisis.
Why Israel Has No Newtowns: It’s the Jewish state’s gun culture, not its laws, that prevents mass shootings
Why? In the days since 27 innocents, most of them children, were murdered in a Sandy Hook school, all have been asking that question, trying to make sense of an ultimately senseless act. Simpler minds insisted that anyone who has ever argued in favor of anything but the absolute abolition of firearms was complicit in the murder of innocent children, while more astute thinkers tried to look past their indignation and heartbreak in search of sensible policy alternatives. Not surprisingly, they often ended up looking to Israel, a nation, went the argument, whose citizens are heavily armed yet rarely use their guns to shoot each other. This, more than one report noted, was due largely to Israel’s surprisingly strict gun-control legislation: assault rifles are banned, registration is necessary, and a whole system of checks and requirements is in place to keep weapons out of the wrong hands. A popular statistic spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter: Only 58 Israelis were killed by guns last year, compared with 10,728 Americans.
It’s a compelling story. It’s also wrong: There’s much that we can learn from Israel when it comes to firearms, but it’s the state’s gun culture, not its gun laws, that keeps its citizens safe.
Let us, for the sake of argument, put aside the fact that nearly all Israelis serve in the army, and that virtually all soldiers are armed with semiautomatic weapons that they carry on their person at all times, even when back home on vacation. Most men continue to enjoy this unfettered access to arsenals for the duration of their service as army reservists (at least a few weeks out of each year until they’re 45). If we disregard the glutton of guns facilitated by the Israel Defense Forces, we are left with strict-sounding laws that require anyone who wants a firearm license to register with the government and meet a list of seemingly stringent conditions.