On October 1, 2017, the United States witnessed the worst mass shooting in its history. While innocent people were enjoying a country music concert 32 floors below, a man who had no criminal history opened fire on them from a hotel window and, using battlefield weapons and ammunition he had purchased legally, killed 58 and injured over 500 others.
Can catastrophes like this be prevented? Sometimes it seems hopeless. We’ve seen one horrific shooting after another in recent years, yet our political system seems unable to enact common sense legislation to prevent these events. Many have come to believe in the myth of the invincible gun lobby.
The United States is not the only nation to suffer from mass shootings; however, the problem is far worse here than anywhere else in the world. A comparative study of 171 countries showed a close correlation between the availability of firearms and the rate of mass shootings. Americans own 89 guns per 100 persons, compared with a worldwide average of 14 per 100 (these are not evenly distributed – 66% of households have no gun, and 3% have more than 25). Between 1966 and 2012, the international per-country average for mass shootings (defined as episodes in which 3 or more people were killed by the same shooter) was 1.7. In that time, the U.S. had 90.
As physicians and public health experts, we’re accustomed to tackling tough, seemingly intractable problems. Polio once ravaged the nation in recurrent epidemics. Now it has all but vanished in the Western Hemisphere. Automobile fatalities have dropped more than 90% since the 1950’s due to research and implementation of motor vehicle safety measures. Cancer is a devastating condition of enormous biological complexity; yet we can now prevent or effectively treat the majority of common malignancies.
Mass shootings have been increasing in frequency and severity over the past decade. The easy, legal availability of powerful guns and ammunition greatly facilitates these attacks.
No single law or action would completely eliminate the possibility of a mass shooting. However, we would like to propose several entirely constitutional and feasible measures that, taken together, could substantially reduce their frequency and severity. Continue reading “How to Prevent Mass Shootings – PAN Position Paper”