Four Facts About Gun Violence That Will Alarm You, Surprise You, and Make You Think
The tragically large amount of gun violence in the United States grants researchers a plethora of data to dig into. As a small community in Oregon recovers from yet another mass shooting in the United States, already the 294th this year, let's review a few of scientists' findings about mass shootings and gun violence.
1. Mass shootings may be "contagious." Earlier this year, researchers at Arizona State University examined whether or not mass killings involving firearms beget more mass shootings. They hypothesized that media coverage of these tragic events might trigger at-risk individuals to carry out killings of their own. Applying a contagion model to numerous data sets charting such events, they found that each mass killing involving a firearm may incite at least 0.3 new incidents. Put another way, about every three mass shootings leads to another being committed.
2. The U.S. firmly leads the developed world in firearm deaths. In a 2011 study examining WHO data on firearm deaths in 23 populous, high-income countries, researchers found that 80% of all firearm deaths occurred in the United States. Women and children were particularly affected. "86% of women killed by firearms were US women, and 87% of all children aged 0 to 14 killed by firearms were US children," the researchers reported. The data was from 2003, however, so it requires updating.
3. Survivors of mass shootings are prone to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Around lunchtime on October 16, 1991, George Hennard crashed his pickup truck through the front of a Luby's Cafeteria in Kileen, Texas and opened fire on the patrons inside. Twenty-three died in the attack, the third-deadliest shooting in U.S. history.
One month after the horrific shooting, psychologists interviewed 136 survivors of the massacre. Twenty percent of the men and thirty-six percent of the women met the criteria for PTSD, though most had no history whatsoever of psychiatric illness. Similar rates of PSTD were found amongst survivors of the Virginia Tech shooting.
PTSD, an anxiety disorder characterized by nightmarish flashbacks, hyperarousal, and constant stress, is typically seen in combat veterans subject to repeated traumatizing events during warfare, but it also can be triggered by single events, such as mass shootings.
4. Strict gun control laws worked wonders in Australia. In the wake of one of the deadliest shootings ever carried out by a single person, the Port Arthur massacre, Australia's government passed bipartisan gun control legislation that involved buying back 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, prohibiting private sales, and requiring that all weapons be registered, among other provisions. The apparent effects of the reforms, as revealed by two large observational studies conducted over a decade later, were astounding. The firearm homicide rate fell by 59 percent and the firearm suicide rate fell by 65 percent. Moreover, while there were 13 mass shootings in the 18 years before the legislation was passed, there have been only two since.