On Jan. 14, a twelve-year-old boy walked into the gymnasium of Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, New Mexico, pulled a shotgun out of his bag, and opened fire. The boy surrendered his gun a mere ten seconds later, but that was enough time for him to seriously wound two other young students.
Gun control immediately resumed its role as a hot-button issue both in the United States and abroad, as many were uncomfortably aware of how the unfortunate situation could have been so much worse. Memories of 2012’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, during which twenty-six students and staff members were killed, were no doubt all too fresh in the minds of parents waiting to hear whether their children were okay.
And just like the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, the media and the public will be looking for something to blame, some reasonable explanation for why such a tragedy happened or how it should have been prevented. In the Sandy Hook case, for example, the accepted conclusion was that the shooter suffered from mental illness.
In this new case in Roswell, there does not yet seem to be a simple answer. The boy did not have a history of mental illness, though he is currently undergoing detailed psychological evaluation. As of yet, there is no established motive for the shooting, and authorities believe that the two wounded students were not specifically targeted. The gun was legally purchased by one of the boy’s parents, and all he did was take it from the home—obviously, there was some improper gun storage at play here, but this is not a complete explanation.
Even the popular media punching bag of “too many violent video games” has yet to receive any corroborating evidence.
Indeed, people are looking for the simple answer and they are not finding it. But in their search, they’re missing the simplest answer of all, the latent explanation behind every mass shooting in history: guns themselves.
For the sake of being concise, we’ll operate within the confines of the United States (which, for the record, has the highest rates of both mass shootings and gun-related homicides per capita amongst developed countries in the world), and more specifically with statistics for the past thirty years. This is a period in which the United States has done a lot to try and improve their gun control policies, including following the Sandy Hook shooting when President Obama spearheaded legislation to tighten restrictions on gun ownership for people with mental illness.
And yet, despite all of these measures, the rate of mass shootings (defined as causing at least four deaths, not including the gunmen themselves) in the United States has not changed significantly over the past three decades—instead, they’ve remained roughly constant at about twenty per year.
That means that, in the United States, there is a mass shooting roughly every two or three weeks. And that’s really scary.
Quite simply, it’s enough to make me question why we’re still giving guns to people at all. Some people claim that society would be safer if everyone owned and was trained with a gun, but to me, the American case seems to disprove of that. With eighty-nine guns per hundred people, the United States holds the world record of firearms per capita by a long shot—and, statistically, the country’s a lot worse off because of it.
It makes me wonder what the opposite sort of society would look like: no legal guns at all, except for those used by law enforcement and military. Hunters and libertarians would likely take offence to the very notion of such a society, but I think it bears consideration.
After all, current policy changes in the US have yet to show a significant impact on gun violence and, specifically, mass shootings. Perhaps it’s time that we focus our attention on what’s really at the root of the problem.