Mass Shootings

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The presence of guns in our country is an area of powerful, emotionally charged debate. These weapons are used to harm or kill people with alarming frequency. And although not actually that common compared to other types of firearm deaths [1], it's the mass shootings which seem to scare us the most.

Reducing or stopping these events would barely change the total number of people killed by firearms each year [2] but doing so would significantly impact public confidence and reduce public anxiety. Yet, despite the cries of [3] some activists, we are not going to ban guns.

The question is this: What would be politically viable to reduce mass shootings?

Step 1: Focus on Schools

These horrific incidents have occurred everywhere from churches to military bases to movie theaters. But it is school shootings which capture the American attention as they feel more terrifying than words can describe. If we can curb school shootings, we can make progress elsewhere.

Step 2: Mental Health

There is widespread support for mental health services. In fact I think you could easily get funding for at least one full-time social worker in every school in America. (Currently about 1/4 of schools have at least a part-time social worker. [4]) Since the largest number of shooters are connected to the school [5] helping those individuals before they take lethal action is crucial.

Step 3: Background Checks

We have widespread interest in “universal background checks” in the United States [6]. The specific meaning of this phrase in the nature of implementation is quite a bit more complicated, but generally voters support this idea. There's not much evidence of how well they work [7] but doing things people want is probably worth of consideration

Step 4: Media Landscape

I haven’t seen any studies, but I would bet many people would appreciate encouraging media sources to change their practices on reporting school shootings. We don’t need to learn the name of the shooter. We probably don’t need these events covered in detail outside of the local communities where they happen. And psychologists have repeatedly pointed out that coverage of the incident normalizes them thus communicating the idea of a school shooting to the next shooter. [8]

I do not know how effective these changes would be, but they are certainly politically viable. And again: while these events capture our attention, they are a tiny percentage of gun deaths. In the course of a year 50,000 people die from gun-related injuries in the United States. About 15 of these, on average, happen in schools. While every gun homicide and suicide is tragic policy makers need to study the overall phenomena when making choices on behalf of constituents.

It is hard, but we can do hard things.

[1] Mass shootings are rare says PBS. And also CBS. And also the Pew Research Center.

[2] About 30 people a year are killed in mass shootings. About 50,000 people are year are killed by firearms overall.

[3] I can't find a source that says how many Americans think we should have a total ban on guns. In talking with voters I would estimate it is less than 10%.

[4] Maybe closer to 40% but also it depends on how you measure.

[5] Per a GAO report.

[6] About 8 in 10 of us.

[7] For balance: here's the NRA on

[8] The National Institutes of Health and a CU Boulder professor and The National Center for Health Research and more.

mass_shootings.txt · Last modified: 2024/02/16 11:35 by rslaughter