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Gun violence: A US scourge that refuses to die
By:China Daily
update:December 27,2022
A sign seen in a memorial outside the Robb Elementary, where a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in the deadliest US school shooting in nearly a decade, in Uvalde, Texas, US November 27, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]
More than 600 mass shootings, over 20,900 deaths mark yet another deadly year of bloodshed
On Dec 14 the families of 20 students and six educators shot dead in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, marked 10 years without them.
Most of the children were just 6 or 7 years old. It was the worst school shooting in the United States, so horrific that barely anyone thought anything like it could happen again. But it did.
On May 24 this year in Uvalde, Texas, 19 children and two teachers were killed in a shooting at Robb Elementary School in the country's second-worst school shooting. And the parents of those children joined the parents of those killed in Connecticut in a lifelong struggle of grief.
There have been 48 school shootings this year that have resulted in injuries or deaths, the most in a single year since Education Week began tracking such shootings in 2018.
There have been 606 mass shootings in the US this year, says the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that tracks the spread of gun violence and that defines a mass shooting as a single event in which at least four people, other than the person wielding the gun, are shot.
That means that 2022 is on par with 2020, in which 610 such shootings were recorded.
This year the US again led the world in gun-related deaths, more than 20,900, including homicides and suicide, Gun Violence Archive says. And the US has the highest number of guns per capita at more than 400 million weapons, meaning there is more than one gun for every man, woman and child.
"Many other countries have disadvantaged folks who are angry and alienated," Richard Berk, a professor emeritus of criminology and statistics at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Washington Post. "But guns aren't there."
Mass shootings in the US have followed a predictable and superficial script with a few exceptions.
They produce calls for greater gun controls including banning automatic weapons; gun advocates defend the right to bear arms. There are instant monuments to victims and there are candlelight vigils. The media profiles the victims and the shooter. The shooter's Facebook page or blog will be found and perhaps a note giving a hint of why the shooting happens. And there are heartfelt comments from politicians from the local level to the White House.
With few exceptions, most of the shootings fade from the national conversation, but the scenario unfolds again when the next one occurs.
There are those who offer a radical solution: arm good guys to take on bad guys, and that is what is happening in the US. The increase in the number of public shootings involving guns is causing people to arm themselves out of fear.
Gun sales peak after mass shootings, partly for fear of victimization and partly for fear of increased regulation. They rose after school shootings, amid coronavirus shutdowns, racial justice protests, the presidential election in 2020 and after the Jan 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.
There is deadly gun violence in the US every day, and mass shootings, especially in schools, draw much more attention. However, those shootings represent a fraction of gun violence overall, said Jillian Peterson, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and co-founder of the Violence Project, which studies mass killers.
Mass shootings, Peterson told the Post, account for fewer than 1 percent of all people killed by firearms. They are "very rare, still, even though they're increasing".
"Mass shootings, by design, (are) meant to go viral, Peterson said. "The goal of them is fame, notoriety." Public mass shootings have a "psychological impact" on people, instilling fear of going to the movies or a grocery store, she said.
While mass shootings draw attention, most gun deaths in the US are either suicides or homicides, according to federal figures, with accidental or undetermined gun deaths representing a small fraction of the overall share. Almost 60 percent of gun deaths each year are suicides, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Suicide attempts
Firearms accounted for about 8 percent of suicide attempts but slightly more than half the 47,511 suicide deaths in 2019, the American Association of Suicidology says. Men are nearly four times as likely as women to die in a suicide attempt, mainly because they are much more likely to use a gun.
In 2020, 54 percent of all gun-related deaths (24,292) were suicides, and 43 percent were murders (19,384), the CDC says.
Two demographic groups bear the brunt of escalating gun violence in the US and are most likely to die of a gunshot wound: young black men and older white men.
White men are six times as likely to die by suicide as other US citizens. Black men are 17 times as likely to be killed with a gun fired by someone else.
Nearly 8 in 10 murders in the US in 2020, or 19,384 out of 24,576, involved a firearm. That was the highest percentage since at least 1968, the earliest year for which the CDC has online records. Fifty-three percent of all suicides in 2020, 24,292 out of 45,979, involved a gun, a percentage that has generally remained stable in recent years.
How has the number of US gun deaths changed over time?
The total gun deaths at 45,222 in 2020 are the most on record, representing a 14 percent increase from the year before, a 25 percent increase from five years before and a 43 percent increase from a decade before.
Gun murders have climbed sharply in recent years. The 19,384 that took place in 2020 were the most since at least 1968, exceeding the previous peak of 18,253 recorded by the CDC in 1993. The 2020 total represented a 34 percent increase from the year before, a 49 percent increase over five years and a 75 percent increase over 10 years.
The number of gun suicides has also risen in recent years, rising 10 percent over five years and 25 percent over 10 years, and is near its highest point on record. The 24,292-gun suicides that took place in 2020 were the most in any year except 2018, when there were 24,432.
What is rarely mentioned in stories about gun violence in the US is the cost of firearm injuries, more than $1 billion each year in initial direct medical costs alone, the federal Government Accountability Office reported in July.
It found that each year firearm-related injuries cause 30,000 initial inpatient hospital stays that cost an average of $31,000 each, and 50,000 initial emergency room visits that cost an average of $1,500 each. That does not include physicians' costs, which could increase total costs by about 20 percent, the GAO found.
For victims of fatal firearm injuries, medical expenses totaled $290 million in 2020 and cost an average of $9,000 for each patient. Much of these costs are paid for by public health insurance providers.
Mental and emotional impacts of exposure to gun violence can cause significant health effects, adding to healthcare costs. For survivors of gun violence injuries, psychiatric disorders increase by 200 percent in the month after injury, the GAO says. For children exposed to a fatal school shooting in their local area, the use of antidepressants rises 21 percent in the two years after the shooting.
Gun violence also affects victims' families. A study by the Annals of Internal Medicine found that family members of survivors sustaining a nonfatal gun-related injury result in a 12 percent greater incidence of psychiatric disorders compared with families who experienced no such injuries.
Gun safety advocates fear that a Supreme Court ruling on June 23 will exacerbate gun violence.
The court ruled that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution protects the right to publicly carry a firearm. It struck down a New York state law that had been on the books for more than a century and required people to show a specific need to carry a concealed firearm in public. The court also found it was applied unevenly. The ruling meant similar laws in California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey were invalid.
New legal test
The court also established a new legal test. Gun laws now must be judged based on the "text, history and tradition" of the Second Amendment. What did the amendment mean to the founders, where did they think the right to bear arms originated and how did they apply it?
Gun rights advocates say the high court's decision in the New York case has opened the door to overturning many other gun restrictions in states. However, gun safety advocates say the court's ruling was limited in scope and still allows states to regulate types of firearms, where people can carry firearms and the permitting process includes requirements for background checks and training.
The Governor of New York, Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, called the court's decision "a monumental setback", but a little more than a week after the ruling she signed a measure into law that establishes a strict process to obtain a concealed carry permit and restricts the locations where people can carry firearms, including in government buildings and schools. That law is now being challenged in court.
The Supreme Court decision came one day before Congress passed a bipartisan compromise aimed at stopping dangerous people from obtaining firearms, ending nearly 30 years of congressional inaction over how to counter gun violence and toughen the nation's gun laws.
The last significant federal gun control legislation was passed in 1994, banning the manufacture for civilian use of assault rifles and large-capacity magazines, but it expired 10 years later.
Although polls indicate that most US citizens support gun control efforts, many Republicans in Congress represent states with large pro-gun communities. Despite that, the gun bill received bipartisan support in the House of Representative and the Senate. The House approved the measure one month to the day after the shooting in Uvalde.
"After 28 years of inaction, bipartisan members of Congress came together to heed the call of families across the country and passed legislation to address the scourge of gun violence in our communities," President Joe Biden said.
The bill he signed imposes tougher checks on young buyers and encourages states to remove guns from those considered a threat. It provides $15 billion in federal funding for mental health programs and school security upgrades and funding to encourage states to implement so-called red flag laws to remove firearms from those considered a threat. It also closes the so-called boyfriend loophole by blocking gun sales to those convicted of abusing an unmarried partner.
On the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, Biden said the US "should have societal guilt" for the slow pace of action on restricting access to firearms. He renewed his call for a ban on assault-style weapons such as the one used in the Sandy Hook shooting, as well as high-capacity magazines.
Biden was vice-president when the shooting occurred and was tapped by then President Barack Obama to lead an ill-fated effort to tighten gun laws.
Two days after the shooting, Obama went to Newtown, where he met some of the families of those killed and spoke at a prayer vigil to try to console a grieving nation.
On the 10th anniversary of the massacre he recalled the tragedy.
"The news from Sandy Hook was devastating, a visceral blow, and like so many others, I felt not just sorrow but anger at a world that could allow such things to happen. I still consider Dec 14, 2012, the single darkest day of my presidency."

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