Friday, June 19, 2015


Racism and guns are a bad mix and there's plenty of both in America.

Police described the attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as a "hate crime".
They issued surveillance images of the suspect and said he had sat in the church for an hour before opening fire.

President Barack Obama stood righteous, angry and powerless on Thursday as he responded to yet another mass killing by a gunman in America.

“I have had to make statements like this too many times,” Obama said, pausing with emotion, referring to similar statements of grief following at least 14 mass killings during his presidency, according to a tally by CBS’s Mark Knoller. Those include shootings in Aurora, Colorado; Tucson, Arizona, and Newtown, Connecticut. Once again, he said, “someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”

Obama described the frequency of the type of gun violence seen in the killings of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday evening as unique to the United States among advanced countries.

“Let’s be clear,” Obama said, as Vice President Joe Biden, standing beside him at the front of the White House briefing room, nodded. “At some point we as a country have to reckon with the fact that this type of violence does not happen in other advanced countries.” Read more:

Obama is right: gun violence is way more common in the US than in its developed peers — and it's not even close. This chart, compiled using United Nations data collected by the Guardian's Simon Rogers, shows that America far and away leads Canada, Japan, and several European counterparts in gun homicides:

But why does the US have so many more gun homicides than other advanced countries? One possible explanation: Americans are much more likely to own guns than their peers around the world. And the empirical research shows places with more guns have more homicides.

33,636 Americans died of injuries caused by guns in 2013. Here's what we know about what's behind that problem, and about the effects of guns on society more broadly.
Here are some of the reasons why the US stands out from the rest of the developed world when it comes to gun violence;

There's roughly one gun for every person in America

It's pretty hard to count up all the guns in the United States, especially given how varied different states' licensing and registration policies are. A 2012 Congressional Research Service report estimated that there were 310 million civilian guns in 2009: 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns. The Small Arms Survey, which measures gun prevalence internationally, estimated that there were 270 million in 2007. The latter estimate suggests there were 88.8 guns for every 100 people in the US in 2007; there were about 307 million people in the US in 2009, which would mean the CRS estimated there were more guns than people in America.

Gun crime is more prevalent in the US than in other rich countries

In 2012, Max Fisher compared gun homicide rates in wealthy countries, using UN data. The US was far ahead of the non-Mexico members of the OECD, with only Chile anywhere close:

Places with more guns have more homicides

Protestations of gun rights supporters aside, public health researchers who study firearms generally agree that increased firearm ownership rates are associated with higher rates of homicide. The Harvard School of Public Health's Injury Control Research Center is a great resource here. It notes that a wide variety of methodologies show guns as a risk factor for homicide in the US and other high-income countries. Developed countries with more guns generally have more homicide; states within the US with more guns have more homicide; people with access to guns — particularly women — are more likely to be victims of homicide than those without access.

There are more gun suicides than gun homicides in America

Gun homicides get far more attention in the popular press, but most gun deaths are the result of suicide. In 2013, the last year for which the CDC providesnumbers, 21,175 people committed suicide by firearm, while 11,208 people died in gun homicides. Historical data shows it's been this way for a while:

Suicide is more common in places with more guns

The relationship between gun prevalence and suicide is stronger than the relationship between guns and homicide, as the Harvard Injury Control Research Center's Means Matter project shows. People who die from suicide are likelier to live in homes with guns than people who merely attempted suicide, and states with higher rates of gun ownership have higher rates of gun suicide.

Living in a house with a gun increases your odds of death

Guns can kill you in three ways: homicide, suicide, and by accident. Owning a gun or having one readily accessible makes all three more likely. A recent meta-analysis "found strong evidence for increased odds of suicide among persons with access to firearms compared with those without access and moderate evidence for an attenuated increased odds of homicide victimization when persons with and without access to firearms were compared." The latter finding is stronger for women, a reminder that guns are also a risk factor for domestic violence.
Guns contribute to domestic violence

While everyone is at a greater risk of dying by homicide if they have access to a gun, the connection is stronger for women. In a survey of battered women, 71.4 percent of respondents reported that guns had been used against them, usually to threaten to kill them. A study comparing abused women who survived with those killed by their abuser found that 51 percent of women who were killed had a gun in the house. By contrast, only 16 percent of women who survived lived in homes with guns.

Jacquelyn Campbell, a Johns Hopkins professor responsible for much of what we know about guns and domestic violence (and domestic violence in general), developed a set of screening questions to ask abused women to determine who's at the most risk of being killed by their abuser. Among the questions in the screen, which has been adopted by Maryland police and appears to be working, are a couple about the abuser's access to guns, emphasizing that gun access is a risk factor for homicide in abusive relationships.

For more, read this piece by CityLab's Evan DeFilippis explaining the evidence on guns and domestic violence.

A tiny fraction of gun violence is committed by the mentally ill

In discussions of mass shootings, the topic of mental illness regularly comes up, often paired with pleas to improve mental health services instead of or in addition to gun control measures. While the mental health care system in the United States is abysmal and in desperate need of more funding, this is a bit of misleading connection to draw.

For one thing, mass shootings are a tiny percentage of the overall homicide problem and should not be blown out of proportion. But more importantly, our violent crime problem really has little to do with mental illness. Columbia's Paul Appelbaum and Duke's Jeffrey Swanson concluded that "only 3%-5% of violent acts are attributable to serious mental illness, and most do not involve guns." Similarly, a study in Sweden found that only 5.2 percent of violent crimes were committed by people with serious mental illness.

That doesn't mean that certain types of mental illness aren't risk factors for violence. A National Institute of Mental Health study found that 16 percent of people with serious mental illness (such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder) commit a serious act of violence in their lifetime, compared with 7 percent of the general population. But anxiety disorders didn't increase one's risk of committing violence at all.

Much more important as a factor is drug and alcohol abuse; Cornell psychiatrist Richard Friedman notes that the same NIMH study found that "people with no mental disorder who abused alcohol or drugs were nearly seven times as likely as those without substance abuse to commit violent acts." A Mayors Against Illegal Drugs analysis of mass shootings found a much stronger connection to domestic violence than to mental illness.