As we pause to remember the victims of the Newtown, CT shooting and pray for those left behind, let us also pause for a brief history lesson related to mass gun violence and the failure of legislative and regulatory attempts to stop it.
First, as painful as each and every mass shooting is (The FBI defines mass murder as ‘murdering a large number of people [four or more], typically at the same time or over a relatively short period of time’), mass shootings are relatively rare in the United States. Over the past three decades, the U.S. has experienced 62 mass murders where the primary weapon was a firearm. Even one shooting is one too many, but in terms of real frequency, the occurrence of mass shootings is quite low.
Since the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1990, the preponderance of mass shootings have taken place in gun-free zones. Grade Schools, Middle Schools, High Schools, Colleges, Universities, Government Buildings and private buildings with “no guns” signs posted …. These are the havens of mass murderers. Of the 54 mass shootings since the Gun-Free Schools Act passed in 1990, 21 were in schools, government buildings, places of worship or other buildings legislatively designated as gun-free zones. Most of the other shootings were in private locations posted as “gun-free” (e.g. Westroads Mall in Omaha, NE, the theater in Aurora, CO ) or in states (e.g. Illinois and California) with extensive and prohibitive gun ban legislation.
Finally, “assault weapons” bans (and gun bans, in general) don’t work, period. Two key pieces of evidence demonstrate this. First, weapons labeled as “assault weapons” are rarely used in mass shootings. In more than 60% of mass shootings, the firearm was a semi-automatic handgun that did not qualify as an “assault weapon” as defined by the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. Second, the period from 1994 – 2004, while the ban was in effect, was just as violent, in terms of mass shootings, as were the periods from 1982 – 1994 and 2004 – 2012. Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Research Council (NRC) studied the Assault Weapons Ban and other gun control legislation and determined that neither had any real or discernible impact on gun violence.
As we reflect on the loss related to the shooting in Connecticut, my hope is that any discussion of limiting the rights of law-abiding citizens will be met with calm and logic based upon the facts above. Banning guns is not the answer. As a country, we’ve tried it without success. The definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If we want different results. If we want to reduce the number of mass murders, or eliminate them altogether, we must look more deeply into our country’s social fabric. We must ask “why” over and over again until we reach the root of the matter. I have some thoughts on the subject – perhaps I’ll discuss them in another post. The solution won’t involve knee-jerk, quick fix legislation. The solution will take time, perhaps decades, and will be painful in and of itself. True change never comes easily.