Bevin's wrong – it really is the guns

Bruce Maples (bruceinlouisville@gmail.com)
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Twice this week, Governor Bevin has blamed culture, especially video games and television shows, for the school shootings in Kentucky and Florida.

He’s wrong. And research shows the real problem: our insane number of guns, and our lax gun laws.

A story in the New York Times outlines research that controlled for factors such as video game usage, mental illness, and racial diversity. In the end, none of those correlated to either the number of mass shootings or the rate of mass shootings per 100,000 people.

Look at these two graphs:

Correlation of Guns in Circulation to Number of Mass Shooters

The New York Times |Source: Adam Lankford, The University of Alabama (shooters); Small Arms Survey (guns). Note: Includes countries with more than 10 million people and at least one mass public shooting with four or more victims.

Correlation of Guns per Capita to Mass Shooters per Capita

The New York Times |Source: Adam Lankford, The University of Alabama (shooters); Small Arms Survey (guns).

Factors that aren’t factors

In contrast, the non-gun explanations that are often put forward simply aren’t supported by the facts. From the NYT article:

If mental health made the difference, then data would show that Americans have more mental health problems than do people in other countries with fewer mass shootings. But the mental health care spending rate in the United States, the number of mental health professionals per capita and the rate of severe mental disorders are all in line with those of other wealthy countries.

A 2015 study estimated that only 4 percent of American gun deaths could be attributed to mental health issues. And Mr. Lankford, in an email, said countries with high suicide rates tended to have low rates of mass shootings — the opposite of what you would expect if mental health problems correlated with mass shootings.

Whether a population plays more or fewer video games also appears to have no impact. Americans are no more likely to play video games than people in any other developed country.

Racial diversity or other factors associated with social cohesion also show little correlation with gun deaths. Among European countries, there is little association between immigration or other diversity metrics and the rates of gun murders or mass shootings.

More proof that guns are the issue

Other factors noted in various research:

  • Our gun homicide rate was 33 per million in 2009. Canada was 5 per million. Great Britain was 0.7 per million. This tracks with gun ownership in each country.
  • America’s crime rate is about the same as other developed countries. But, our crimes end in violence much more often. As noted in the article, “A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.”
  • More gun ownership tracks with more gun murders, no matter what factors you control for.
  • Gun control legislation tends to reduce gun murders.

Will we do anything? No.

For some reason, Americans value our guns more than we value our safety or our children’s safety. Every time a mass shooting occurs, the same voices call for gun legislation, or at least discussion about it, and the same voices on the other side shout down the calls, and nothing is done.

The closing paragraph from the Times article sums up today’s reality:

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”

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