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New Complications Challenge No-Complications-Allowed Gun Debate

Two recent developments underscore the depressing narrowness of America’s gun violence discussion founded in demographic scapegoating (the subject of a future blog). First, the excellent Analysis of Recent Mass Shootings by Mayors Against Illegal Guns analyzes America’s 93 mass shootings (each resulting in 4 or more people killed) from January 2009 through September 2013 to “reveal a different portrait of mass shootings in America than conventional wisdom might suggest.”

Mass shootings, MAIG finds, comprise just 1% of gun violence. Just 4% of mass shootings occur in schools; two-thirds take place in private residences. More than half the public shootings also involved domestic killings, demonstrating that houshold and public violence are closely linked. Just 18% of the 97 gunmen (and a couple of women) were under age 25; two-thirds were 30 or older. Most shooters would have passed background checks and mental health screenings.

Unfortunately, factual, unconventional information is a threat to today’s established talking points targeting young people and schools and pushing popular remedies. Neither side in gun politics wanted conclusions like MAIG’s. The report was largely ignored.

The second disruptive development was the May 23 shooting and stabbing of 20 people near the University of California, Santa Barbara, by 22 year-old Elliot Rodger, who boasted his murderous rampage would prove his “true alpha male” superiority to women for sexually rejecting him (pointedly, he targeted Alpha Sorority women) and the “obnoxious slobs” (mainly jocks) they preferred.

For gun control advocates, the complications raised by these developments are clear. Rodger had obtained firearms legally under California’s gun regulations, ranked the nation’s strictest by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, after passing three background checks. Far from suffering neglected mental illness, he was under psychiatric supervision. Some gun control proposals remain relevant to gun violence, but the MAIG report and related realities suggest a major overhaul of the progressive firearms agenda.

The gun-rights side remains far more oblivious to reality. The National Rifle Association and allied lobbies clearly have no answers to appalling Fact Number 1 (the United States suffers a mass shooting every 14 days), and even more appalling Fact Number 2 (as horrible as mass shootings are, non-mass shootings kill 100 times more Americans). The NRA’s dismal fantasy is simply one of endless, bloody shootouts between “good guys with guns” and “bad guys.”

How's that idea working out? The gun-friendliest state in the country (this week), Georgia, whose ultra-lax, NRA-driven laws authorize gun carrying by just about everyone, everywhere, has more annual gun murders (450 in a population of 10 million) than the nations of England/Wales, Germany, France, Japan, Canada, and Australia put together (448 murders in a combined population of 375 million). That residents of gun-happy Georgia are 40 times more likely to be murdered by firearms than residents of few-guns other Western countries demonstrates that relying on armed good-guys is, literally, fatally flawed.

With one side having no answers and the other only piecemeal answers, the biggest issue recent developments reconfirm is the fossilized nature of a gun policy debate rooted in destructive “demographic distancing.” Right-wing gun-rights groups profit from fear of darker, immigrant, and younger populations, and progressives will make little progress in forging reality-based reforms and the necessary consensus to reform gun policies until they move beyond scapegoating young people for violence.

Keywords: guns, Mike Males

Posted in Blog, Political Landscape

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