Why Does America Experience More Gun Violence than Any Other Developed Country?
And what can we do about it?
As Spike Lee might’ve once remarked if Michael Jordan had been something other than a basketball player, “Is it the guns? It’s gotta be the guns.” CNN’s Kara Fox cites the Small Arms Survey (SAS) that shows America has 46 percent of all civilian-owned guns worldwide with more than five times the number of guns as India, which placed second on the list. On the per capita the U.S. is still on top of the list with the most guns per person. Yemen, a country mired in civil war, is second on the list with fewer than half the guns per person as the United States.
In high income countries, Fox cites a 2010 survey conducted by the World Health Organization and published in the “American Journal of Medicine,” America has more than 25 times the number of gun-related deaths, which includes homicides and suicides, than the any other nation. Americans are 8 times as likely to commit suicide with a gun than other developed nations. And none of these touches on the number of mass shootings the United States has experienced; America can be proud to once again claim the top spot far beyond any other nation that is considered high income.
People may argue the statistics. What makes up a mass shooting? Is it different than a mass killing? If three people are killed is it a mass shooting or do you need four or more? All of that is minutia and diversionary. The fact is that America has a gin violence problem. While guns may not kill people, they are the only weapon involved in gun violence. New Zealand has shown what can happen when a country takes action after a mass shooting. Australia has, too. While eliminating guns may not be a viable option in the U.S. because of the sheer number (an estimated 393 million by the SAS), it doesn’t mean the country shouldn’t start moving toward that option and a “well-regulated militia” because right now the country doesn’t have a 2nd Amendment well-regulated militia. It has a bunch of individuals with weapons capable of injuring hundreds of people in a couple of minutes.
Politicians are quick to blame video games because associating gun violence with video games is an easy out. It allows them to place blame on an industry that hasn’t donated millions of dollars to politicians, and it doesn’t ruffle the feathers of a majority of gun owners. The fact is that multiple studies have failed to show any connection between gun violence and video games. As “Business Insider” points out in a March 4, 2018 article, the same video games are sold worldwide and “gun violence is far more prevalent in the U.S.” If guns don’t kill people, how can video games be the culprits?
If guns don’t shoulder the blame (and many people think they due in part) and video games aren’t responsible (and there is a contingent of uninformed people that believe they are), then what is the real problem? Why are Americans more likely to kill and be killed by firearms than people living in other economically advanced countries?
The first problem is it’s not one problem; it’s a multi-faceted and complicated issue. Banning guns won’t work by itself, especially in the near future, because people will just stab each other or use a hammer or whatever other weapon someone wants to accuse in the wake of an AR-15 attack. Criminals will always have access to guns unless there are no guns to have access to. If banning guns or at least restricting them to people with no history of mental illness won’t work, what else do we need to do?
Create a Connection
In a hostage situation, one of the most important things a person can do is establish a connection. If the person is pointing a gun at someone, the potential victim should look the potential shooter in the eye and ask for his or her name. Creating a connection in this extreme situation can help save lives, but this also needs to be done in everyday life.
The United States is home to one of the most connected, least connected populations in the world. Everyone has access to the Internet every second of the day. People are using social media and becoming less social. There’s a whole generation that would rather hide than answer the door when someone unexpected knocks. They don’t want to call people. They don’t want to talk to anyone. They want to be alone with their screens. This lack of human contact creates a lack of empathy and compassion. Just like babies who fail to thrive when human touch is lacking, the U.S. is failing to thrive because human interaction is lacking.
People need to learn to talk to each other again, and that doesn’t start in front of a screen. Communication is a skill just like any other. It needs to be nourished and practiced in order to improve, and it needs to be brought away from social media where keyboard anonymity has given a small minority the courage to shout their obscene and incoherent world views that are patently false. They have stoked the fire of fear and anger without providing evidence or communication. Someone who yells all the time has no interest in communicating the truth; they are, instead only interested in shouting down those who would deliver us from their falsehoods.
Remove the Fear
People are more afraid than ever. One of the best ways to eliminate that fear is to get together with those that are feared. Someone who is afraid of Muslims needs to go find a mosque and engage with them in a positive and healthy manner. Someone who is afraid of Mexicans or people from South America needs to find the Latinos in his or her community and see how they live, enjoy their food and hospitality and make friends with them.
There are a whole lot of people with nothing good to do. They sit at home and swipe at their screens all day. They watch toxic pundits spewing at the microphone, and they believe every conspiracy theory out there. Worse, there are enough normal people who are feeling powerless in their situations. They are always behind in their bills, even though they work 40 hours a week. They feel like someone is going to take their work away, which doesn’t pay them enough to get ahead anyway, but who would they be without that job? They can’t see a way out or see a way to something better. Helplessness breeds frustration and anger; it also breeds a “What do I have to lose” attitude. Take it one step further and those who feel powerless might take the power of a firearm into their hands just to feel like they have control over something, even if it is only the end of their lives or someone else’s.
Teach People to Deal with Emotions
Men need to be sensitive and tough. They need to be masculine but not dip into masculine toxicity. This stuff isn’t taught anywhere, and it isn’t represented anywhere. Many men feel like they have no idea how they are supposed to conduct themselves anymore, especially those who grew up in masculine cultures and subcultures. When sports icons can get away with domestic abuse and worse, it makes it difficult to deal with the changes that society is going to have to go through if it wants to be better. That means men have to learn to deal with their emotions with more than violence and repression. They need to have friends they can speak to, and barring that, they need to be able to see a psychologist or psychiatrist without fear of social stigma.
Reading is supposed to create empathy. People don’t read anymore. The U.S. needs to foster a culture where people are encouraged to unplug and read books. The more books a person reads, the more experiences he or she will be able to relate to, which will lead to greater empathy. Being able to look at a person, see his or her situation, and understand, or at least feel compassion, for them is an essential part of creating a safer culture. People are all on the same journey; they should make it easier for each other.
Teach and Use the Golden Rule
In every major religion, some version of the Golden Rule is taught. In America, it has been perverted. It’s not, “Do unto others before they do unto you.” It’s not, “Do unto others what they have done unto you.” It’s not, “Look out for number one.” It’s not, “Do unto others whatever you feel like.” It’s not even, “He who has the gold makes the rules.”
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. To put it in more modern terms, “Treat others as you want to be treated.” Or even simpler, “Be kind.” Perhaps Bill and Ted said it the best way, “Be excellent to each other.” (Air Guitar).
When you’re hungry, wouldn’t you love someone to give you a meal? When your ill, wouldn’t you love to have someone heal you? When you’re tired, wouldn’t you love to have someone let you sleep? You can’t control what other people are going to do to and for you, but you can make sure you do your best to make others lives betters, and there are enough studies out there to show that those actions are good for your soul.
Most politicians who proclaim their faith from on high and send their thoughts and prayers have forgotten, or never knew, that faith without works is dead (James 2:14–17). Until they can find the political will to improve things and lead the country, we have to do what we can to protect ourselves from gun-related deaths, and that starts with making a connection with others and learning how to be human again.