Editorial: America has a killing problem 

Over the course of the last few weeks, more than two dozen people in the U.S. have been killed in mass shooting incidents. Nineteen fourth graders and two teachers were killed in Texas last week. One week earlier, in Buffalo, N.Y., an attack fueled by racism left 10 people dead and three injured inside a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood. 

As we enter the sixth month of the year, there have already been 213 mass shootings, making the U.S. an outlier among high-income nations for gun violence. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more individuals are shot, not including the shooter. The carnage is appalling.  

For the last two years, the U.S. has averaged 10 mass shootings per week. Ten per week. Let that sink in. In 2020, there were 611 mass shootings and in 2019 there were 417. 

But those events, as horrific as they are, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gun-related violence. They are, however, the events that get the most news coverage and cause the most outrage. 

According to a study recently released in the New England Journal of Medicine, there were 45,222 firearm-related deaths in 2020, a 34 percent increase from the previous year. In fact, deaths related to firearms recently eclipsed motor vehicle accidents to become the leading cause of death among children and adolescents. “The increasing firearm-related mortality reflects a longer-term trend and shows that we continue to fail to protect our youth from a preventable cause of death,” wrote the authors of the study. 

Firearm-related deaths are “consistently highest among males, adolescents, young adults, and non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people,” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “In 2020, firearm homicide rates increased across all age groups, with the highest rates and increases observed among those 10-44 years old. Considering age, sex, and race/ethnicity simultaneously, the largest increases in firearm homicide rates were among non-Hispanic Black males 10-44 years old.”  

When mass shootings happen, many blame mental health issues. After all, going into an elementary school with the intent to kill is so horrific that it is reasonable to believe that the perpetrator of such a crime would be deeply mentally disturbed. America absolutely is falling short of providing adequate and affordable mental health care. We have a mental health problem. We have a gun problem, too. 

Shortly before the slayings at Robb Elementary School, the shooter turned 18. Not yet old enough to order a beer at his local bar, he was legally able to purchase two semiautomatic rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. In Buffalo, the 18-year-old suspect wore body armor and livestreamed the attack. These were not spur-of-the-moment attacks – there was planning.  

Deaths by guns have been linked to economic factors, such as poverty, unemployment and housing instability. And amid the pandemic, according to a recent study from the CDC, gun homicide rates grew most among groups that were already at higher risk, including people in poor areas, young men and Black people. 

The reasons why Americans turn guns against themselves or others are complicated and varied. What’s painfully clear is how easy we have made it for them to do so. It is long past time to address both the why and the how of gun violence.  

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