Friday’s awful killings remind us that no community is immune to gun violence. But despite the tragedy at Pathway Home, there is progress. Some firearms sellers have stopped selling assault rifles, important corporations are severing their association with the NRA, and a few state legislatures have taken up the debate. Most important, high school students are taking a stand on firearms carnage. Many of them are already voters, and in four years — look out — all of them will be.
But as horrifying and cruel as mass shootings are, they account for less than 4 percent of all gun homicides in the United States. Despite the brave work of the Parkland survivors and Pathway staff, we must broaden our focus to fully address gun violence.
Every year about 13,000 Americans are murdered by guns, roughly 70 percent by handguns. Rifles of all kinds account for only 3 percent of gun homicides, meaning that assault rifles are actually a small, if ghastly, agent of murder. Don’t get me wrong — such weapons and their high-capacity magazines should be banned, preventing hundreds of deaths and injuries each year.
What about improving mental health treatment, a “solution” offered by the gun lobby? In fact, according to the American Psychiatric Association, there is no evidence that psychiatric diagnoses have a causal link to mass shooters. Indeed, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1 percent of yearly gun homicides. Only 3 percent of violent crime of any kind is associated with people who have diagnosable mental illness.
Gun legislation targeting the mentally ill, the APA says, would yield little and waste scarce prevention resources. Most gun killers are unremarkable males who are enraged and have easy access to firearms. They may have lost a job or broken up with a partner. They feel isolated, rejected, or jealous, and they seek revenge. As we have seen over the decades, they are hard to identify before they commit their crimes. We must direct our efforts to reducing the number and availability of guns.
As for the NRA’s proposal to arm teachers and school staff, its only merit is to spotlight the venality and cynicism of that organization’s leaders. It may be a great way to sell guns, but it won’t keep students safe. The United States leads the world in firearms per capita. It also leads in gun murders, gun suicides and gun accidents. Think there’s any connection? Guns kill.
As the Star’s March 1 editorial noted, the Second Amendment does not forbid prohibitions, conditions or qualifications on the sale of arms. So let’s work toward responsible restrictions on gun access. We can start by voting out the NRA enablers in Congress and state legislatures. Remember, four million high school students turn 18 this year.