Today there was a massacre in the USA, but it won’t be reported on the evening news. There will be no candle lit vigil, no minute’s silence, no lowering of the flag to half-mast. The fact is today is no different from any other day. More than eighty four people are killed by guns in the USA every single day; that’s seven times the death toll of the shootings at the cinema in Aurora, and fourteen times the number shot and killed at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin two weeks later. While these two events received extensive media coverage, gun related deaths are so common in the States that they have become “just one of those things”- tragic, but supposedly unavoidable.
It is estimated that there are approximately 11,000 murders (of a total 31,000 deaths) by firearms per year in the US, compared with just 68 in the UK. Even when population size is accounted for, the number of gun related murders in the US is 40x higher. Whilst we may like to kid ourselves that this difference is down to the fact that we’re calmer, less violent and more sweet natured than our American counterparts, the real reason is pretty obvious: the difference in the law. For two people with the same intention the availability of weapons makes all the difference; it would’ve taken considerably more effort for Colonel Mustard to kill Dr. Black with the candlestick in the kitchen than it did Miss Scarlett with the revolver. The accessibility of arms also makes crimes of passion that much more dangerous; depending on which side of the pond you live on, getting into a heated argument with your spouse could mean the difference between getting hit with a plate or a bullet.
Another facet of the debate which has largely been ignored by the media in the aftermath of the recent shootings is the high number of people who don’t use guns to kill others, but instead to kill themselves. According to a 2005 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 55% of gun related deaths in the U.S. are actually suicides. No, you didn’t read that figure incorrectly. I too had to check, double, triple and quadruple check the sources; 55% of people killed by guns in the United States of America did it to themselves, whether intentionally or not. A common argument peddled by pro-gun activists is that, without guns, people would just find other ways of taking their own lives. Pardon the pun but this theory is easily shot down when you compare the statistics: over 90% of attempted suicides involving guns are successful, while only 34% of jumps from high places and only 2% of drug overdoses end in fatalities.
You’d think that the mass shootings such as those in Aurora would make a nation re-evaluate its relationship with weapons, and it did, but not in the way you’d expect. In the week after the shootings applications for the background checks needed to buy a gun legally rose by 43% in Colorado, the state where the incident took place. Gun sales in Washington, Florida, California and Georgia also soared, with residents fearing that tougher legislation would be put in place. It seems Americans needn’t be so worried though as the response from politicians and lawmakers has been fairly feeble; President Obama has called for more thorough background checks to regulate gun sales to “mentally unbalanced individuals” however, he also stated that updating legislation to impose tighter restrictions would not be on the agenda. Even if it was, it is unlikely that such amendments would go through in the presence of powerful lobbies such as the National Rifle Association not to mention the millions of Americans who see the right to bear arms as their constitutional right enshrined in the second amendment. The response from Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was equally flimsy with the politician saying that he did not believe America needed any new gun laws either.
There is by no means a clear solution to the gun crisis in the States, but the worst thing that the Americans can do is nothing. To put it into perspective there were more than 31,000 gun related deaths in a single year in the U.S. – that’s more than the number of students there are on the University Park, Jubilee, Sutton Bonington and Kings Meadow campuses combined. Burying their heads in the sand, many Americans believe that carrying a gun actually makes you safer, but the simple fact is, just like if you carry a knife you’re more likely to get stabbed, if you carry a gun you’re more likely to get shot.