Opinion: Gun Violence, Separating Truth From “Untruth”

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Sean Newhouse
Contributing Writer

Discussion regarding guns and their place in U.S. society continues to dominate the public sphere since the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which claimed the lives of 17 individuals.

In the wake of the mass shooting, misinformation has rampantly spread about U.S. gun violence. This article seeks to correct, clarify and contextualize a few of the more popular misleading statements.

  1. Have there been 18 school shootings already in 2018?

Short Answer: Depends on what you consider to be a school shooting

Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit co-founded by billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, tweeted this statistic the morning of the Parkland shooting.

They have since revised the number to 17 after finding one of the incidents involved a suicide in the parking lot of a school that had been closed for seven months.

The nonprofit defines a school shooting as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds.” Everytown’s reasoning is any gun discharge affects a school community’s sense of safety.

However, under this definition, a school shooting took place when a Minnesota third-grader accidentally pulled the trigger of a police officer’s holstered pistol on a gym bench in February.

According to Everytown’s data, it appears there were three incidents of shootings with individuals intending to kill a mass number of students so far in 2018. There are four more possible intended mass shootings, but the intention is difficult to ascertain because the shooter is unknown. No one was injured by gunfire in these four instances.

Further anecdotes complicate the matter. A 12 year-old girl from Los Angeles brought a semi-automatic rifle to school that went off and injured four students in February.

This example, among the other incidents in Everytown’s data, illustrates the issue of formulating policy in response to school shootings when there is no widely agreed upon definition of a school shooting.

  1. Is the U.S. the only developed country experiencing rampant gun violence?

Short Answer: Pretty much

The U.S. has the highest per capita rate of firearm-related murders among developed countries. For instance, UD students in the U.S. are about 20 times more likely to be shot than UD students studying abroad in Spain, France or Australia.

In England and Wales there are about 50 to 60 murders by firearms annually among a population of 56 million. In contrast, 139 homicides in 2016 were gun-related in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, a county of a little bit more than one million people.

But the U.S. is not first among all countries. Mexico has about triple the U.S. rate, and Honduras’ average firearm murder rate is about 20 times higher than the U.S.

The U.S. also has more guns than other countries. Americans own about half of the world’s guns. In June 2017, Pew Research Center reported 30 percent of Americans “currently own a gun.” And seven out of 10 Americans say they have shot a gun.

It’s estimated there are 89 firearms per 100 people in the U.S, which is the highest rate in the world. The next two closest countries are Yemen with 55 firearms per 100 people and Switzerland with 46 firearms per 100 people.

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  1. Is it true that 40 percent of guns in the U.S. are sold without a background check?

Short Answer: No, it’s much lower.

The Washington Post’s fact checker repeatedly has disputed this frequently brought up claim.

Researchers at Harvard University and Northeastern University performed a 2015 online survey of 1,613 gun owners, finding 22 percent reported obtaining a firearm in the past two years without a background check. For purchased firearms, the statistic was 13 percent.

Firearms that weren’t purchased (acquired via gift or inheritance) accounted for a sizable share of the weapons obtained without a background check.

Regarding the “gun show loophole,” any survey participant who said they obtained a weapon from a gun show did so after undergoing a background check. But it is possible for an individual to obtain a firearm from a gun show without a background check.

The seller matters. Federally licensed gun sellers must require prospective gun owners to fill-out a federal form asking details of their criminal, drug and mental health history, which is then processed sometimes in a matter of minutes by the FBI. The extent of this background check depends on the state.

But not all sellers are federally licensed. It is possible for private sellers or firearm hobbyists to sell or gift firearms to an individual at a gun show or online without a background check. The extent of this is imprecise due to the difficulty in acquiring data.

  1. Do states with stricter gun laws have less gun violence?

Short Answer: There’s evidence to support that…but,

In a comparison of states, economist Richard Florida found those with tighter gun laws had fewer gun-related deaths. A study by Boston Children’s Hospital had a similar conclusion. These are two examples of studies that have shown gun control leads to less gun deaths.

However, there’s not enough evidence to conclusively state that gun control is the reason why these states have less gun violence. On the other hand, there is no evidence that gun control laws cause more gun crime, another frequent claim.

Arguably more important, though, is that current federal gun regulations are not being fully enforced. Millions of records of individuals who should not be permitted to purchase firearms are missing from the FBI background-check system.

This allowed the shooters in the Charleston church shooting and the November 2017 Texas church shooting to purchase firearms, yet their past convictions should have prevented them from doing so.

The systemic issue has been known for decades but has not been fixed due to bureaucratic complications and lack of legislative commitment.

This is not an exhaustive article on U.S. gun violence. If you want me to address another question or claim or if you noticed an issue with any included statistic, please email me at newhouses1@udayton.edu.

Photo taken from peoriapublicradio.org.