Saturday, June 18, 2016

250.4 - Orlando and guns

Orlando and guns

[Note: I have broken my discussion of the Orlando shooting into four parts for convenience.]

The topic of guns just leads us to the elephant in the room: Orlando. Orlando. Which will now be invoked in the same tones as Newtown, Aurora, San Bernadino, Columbine, and the rest.

In the early hours of Sunday, June 12, a man named Omar Mateen walked into a LGBTQ nightclub called Pulse in Orlando, Florida, armed with a Sig Sauer MCX, reasonably described as an "AR-15 type" semi-automatic assault rifle, and a .9mm Glock pistol. He opened fire.

When it was all over three hours later, 50 people, including Mateen, were dead and 53 more wounded.

And once again we have to face up to the reality, the reality we try so hard to ignore, to forget, of mass violence in America. And the reality that the common denominator in almost all of these cases is an "AR-15 type" assault rifle and don't give me any crap about "there's no such thing as an assault rifle" or the fallback that it isn't an assault rifle because it's not fully automatic and the rest of the evasive, self-serving bull. The fact that it can fire repeatedly as fast as you can pull the trigger - about 45 rounds a minute - and the fact that it can carry high-capacity magazines and that it has repeatedly proved its value in committing mass murder are more than enough to overcome those weasel word objections.

The exact number of mass shootings we experience and have experienced depends on how you define the term: how many have to die to call it a mass shooting; how many injured; do any of the victims have to die for it to be a mass shooting since the victims were, after all, shot; does it have to be a single incident or can it be multiple incidents - think the Virginia Tech shooting - and if multiple how close do they have to be geographically or chronologically; the arguments about the details of definitions go on. But what is clear is that by any definition, the home base of mass shootings is the US.

Using its own measure of mass shootings, the FBI found that from 1966 to 2012, just under a third of all the mass shootings that took place anywhere in the entire world too place in the US - even though we have just 5% of the world's population.

We have too damn many guns and they are too damn easy to get.

And even that dramatically understates the daily carnage guns bring to the US, the vast, vast majority of which do not involve mass killings or shootings but are the slow daily grind of blood.

The graphic comes from work compiled by the Washington Post and reflects figures for the US for the year 2015.

25,000 gun-related injuries. That's more than 68 a day.
12,000 gun-related deaths, half of them suicides. That's nearly 33 a day.
But just 39 deaths from mass shootings: just over 0.3% of total gun deaths.

Mass shootings, mass tragedies such as at Orlando, get our attention, but they do not truly reflect the daily death toll of guns.

We have too damn many guns and they are too damn easy to get.

And even when we are faced with the latest atrocity, when we are faced with such as Orlando, we have our escape clause, our one-size-fits-all excuse for gun-enabled mayhem: Oh, the shooter was mentally disturbed, not normal, they were "troubled," and what we really need to do is focus on better mental health treatment, certainly not guns!

But that's largely a myth. A satisfying myth that enables us to ignore the looming presence of guns, but a myth nonetheless.

Best and recent research shows no reliable predictive value in associating mental health and gun violence. Put another way, the research says that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent toward others, especially to commit mass violence, than anyone else is.

We can't simply dismiss the harsh truth of mass violence with the slogan "better mental health programs." They are justified on their own account - but not because they will address the issue of mass shootings, because they will not. They are a gun lobby-pushed distraction.

Sources cited in links:

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