Better Understanding Gun Control

Josh Karpatkin, Columnist

Three weeks ago, the news broke out that another heartbreaking mass shooting had taken place at a high school in Florida. As the staggering death toll began to make itself known around the country, the cries for tightened gun control reached a new level of fervor. Activists identified a number of specific demands; some of which, such as the banning of assault rifles or the implementation of universal background checks, had long featured in the gun debate, while others, such as raising the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 and the banning of “bump stocks” that essentially enable a semiautomatic weapon to fire as if it were automatic, were brought up specifically by the Florida shooting.

While the gun control activists are entirely well intentioned, these measures are likely to produce a negligible decrease in the broader problem of gun violence. The reason for this, fundamentally, is the fact that mass shootings account for less than 1 percent of all gun deaths. The vast majority of all gun deaths are either gang related, associated with domestic violence, or suicides, accounting for a full two-thirds of all gun deaths when combined. The factors that influence these sorts of gun violence are very different from the ones that lead to mass shootings, and thus, public policy aimed at reducing gun deaths is likely to be ineffective if it focuses on reducing mass shootings. For instance, banning assault weapons and instituting strict background checks is likely to do little to reduce the rates of inner-city gun violence, most of which is committed with illegally-purchased handguns. Many advocate improving mental health care, in the hopes that it will enable us to identify and rehabilitate potential mass shooters before they act.

Putting aside the fact that this is often used as a tactic to divert attention from gun control, it is unlikely to be very successful if we lose sight of the fact that the mentally ill are much more likely to harm themselves than other people. The fact that people argue vehemently for solutions that probably won’t accomplish a whole lot stems from the fact that the media, while not being deliberately deceptive, is perpetuating a false narrative. By perpetually filling the 24 hour news cycle with the latest mass shootings, the media has instilled the idea that mass shootings are much more prevalent than they really are. In a similar manner, roughly three quarters of Americans believe that violent crime is on the rise year after year, despite the fact that it has been in a sharp decline since the 1980s. In order to move towards policies that will be more effective in reducing gun violence, such as community policing, suicide prevention and crackdowns on illegal handgun sales, it is important for us to recognize that the current captivation with mass shootings is in many ways a product of the sensationalized corporate media.