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.