It’s no secret that the U.S. has far more gun-related deaths on an annual basis than any comparable industrialized nation on earth. Those statistics go way beyond drug-related violence and incidents involving family members or acquaintances. When it comes to public mass shootings, America is definitely Number One.
This information comes as a result of a study carried out at the University of Alabama. Professor Adam Lankford, who teaches criminal justice, recently completed an analysis of public mass shootings across the globe over a 46-year period. Between 1966 and 2012, the US averaged five mass shootings a year for a total of 90 such incidents. The closest runner-up was the Philippines, where there were 18 mass shooting over the entire period.
Lankford’s study came up with more disturbing facts and statistics. While mass shooters in other countries tend to use a single weapon and usually target military installations, their American counterparts are more likely to target civilians at schools or workplaces, using multiple weapons. The study showed that fewer victims were killed in such incidents in the US. However, Lankford suggests that the lower death rate may be due to the militarization of police in this country. A related statistic showed that a total of 111 Americans were killed during encounters with law enforcement this past March alone – more than twice as many as those who died under similar circumstances in Britain over the course of the entire 20th Century.
In Canada, law enforcement officers wound up using deadly force a total of fourteen times in 2014. That same year, US police wound up killing nearly 1,100. Overall, the rate of gun-related killings in Canada is approximately one-third that of the US. To put the issue in perspective, it should be noted that per-capita gun violence in some countries far exceeds that of the United States. Honduras is at the top of the list, with nearly 65 gun-related deaths per 100,000 – more than five times that of the US. Honduras is followed by El Salvador, Venezuela, Guatemala and Jamaica. Ironically, one nation with an extremely low rate of shooting deaths is Israel, a nation that has had to become a virtual armed camp in order to survive.
Still, compared to similar countries such as Canada and Australia, gun violence in the United States is far too common. Some of the reasons are rooted in culture and history. For example, Western settlement in America during the 19th Century was haphazard; settlers came out and formed communities without any sort of government or law enforcement in place. Later, the government back East might send out federal marshals to keep the peace; alternatively, territorial authorities might set up some type of law enforcement agency, or local communities would appoint a sheriff out of necessity. Nonetheless, law enforcement on the American frontier was an afterthought. The myth of the “Wild West” was kept alive for decades and even glorified by the entertainment industry, from Buffalo Bill to Hollywood. Sadly, such violence continues to be glamorized in today’s popular films and video games.
In Canada, settlement of the West was done in a more orderly fashion. The Canadian government made certain that RCMP bases were established well ahead of any settlement – so that when settlers arrived, there was already a basis for law and order in place.
The foregoing history may explain a significant part of the reason for excessive gun violence in the US, but there are many other factors that come into play as well. In addition to the militarization of civilian police departments, there is the issue of steroid abuse by police officers. Among the general population, lax gun laws and a lack (or poor enforcement) of regulations requiring gun safety training and background checks for gun purchases allows virtually anyone to obtain a firearm – including those who may be mentally unbalanced.
Of course, as we frequently point out here at the Ring of Fire, the gun industry – with the backing of the NRA and help from their enablers in the legislature – has little motivation to help bring about change. By glamorizing gun violence and promoting a culture of fear and paranoia, gun makers will continue to make handsome profits – and more Americans will pay with their lives.