FIVE MYTHS ABOUT GUN VI­O­LENCE

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - By Daniel Web­ster, Jon Ver­nick, Cas­san­dra Cri­fasi and Beth McGinty Daniel Web­ster is the di­rec­tor of the Johns Hop­kins Cen­ter for Gun Pol­icy and Re­search. Jon Ver­nick is the cen­ter’s deputy, and Cas­san­dra Cri­fasi and Beth McGinty are fac­ulty mem­bers at t

No, men­tal ill­ness doesn’t cause most gun vi­o­lence, and mass shoot­ings aren’t usu­ally ran­dom.

With the killing of 58 and the wound­ing of hun­dreds in Las Ve­gas last week­end, Amer­i­cans are once again de­bat­ing gun vi­o­lence. Adding to the pas­sion and the en­trenched po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic in­ter­ests that make this con­ver­sa­tion so in­tense are a num­ber of myths — about how much vi­o­lence there is, what causes it and how to pre­vent it. Here are some of the most stub­born ones.

MYTH NO. 1 Gun vi­o­lence in the United States is at an all-time high.

Don­ald Trump ac­cepted the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 2016 with a speech that de­scribed a coun­try be­sieged by vi­o­lence. He said that Pres­i­dent Barack Obama “has made Amer­ica a more dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment than frankly I have ever seen.” Ear­lier this year, Trump de­clared the U.S. mur­der rate to be “the high­est it’s been in, I guess, 45 to 47 years.” Half of Amer­i­cans in a Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll said gun vi­o­lence is “a very big prob­lem” to­day, with 59 per­cent of non-gun-own­ers say­ing the same.

In­deed, data from the FBI in­di­cates an alarm­ing 32 per­cent in­crease in the num­ber of homi­cides com­mit­ted with firearms from 2014 to 2016. The num­ber of rob­beries and ag­gra­vated as­saults com­mit­ted with firearms in­creased by 17 per­cent over that time. The num­ber of peo­ple shot in mass shoot­ings has also risen sharply in the past 12 years.

Yet the cur­rent rate of firearm vi­o­lence is still far lower than in 1993, when the rate was 6.21 such deaths per 100,000 peo­ple, com­pared with 3.4 in 2016. The high rate in the early 1990s was linked to a va­ri­ety of con­di­tions, most no­tably the emer­gence of a large and vi­o­lent mar­ket for crack co­caine. It’s too soon to de­ter­mine the causes of re­cent in­creases in gun vi­o­lence or whether the up­ward trend will con­tinue.

MYTH NO. 2 Back­ground checks save lives, re­search shows.

The con­cept of uni­ver­sal back­ground checks en­joys rare broad sup­port in the de­bate over gun vi­o­lence: con­sis­tently at or near 90 per­cent. Large ma­jori­ties of Repub­li­cans and Democrats fa­vor the ex­pan­sion of back­ground checks to pri­vate sales and gun show sales, ac­cord­ing to Pew. And there is solid re­search in­di­cat­ing that laws that keep guns out of the hands of high-risk in­di­vid­u­als, such as do­mes­tic abusers and peo­ple con­victed of vi­o­lent crimes, re­duce vi­o­lence.

But there is no re­search in­di­cat­ing that back­ground check laws as they cur­rently ex­ist save lives. Stud­ies sug­gest that the fed­eral Brady Law, which man­dates back­ground checks for firearm sales but ex­empts sales by pri­vate par­ties, has not been strong enough to re­duce homi­cide rates. There is no com­pelling, peer­re­viewed re­search on the ef­fec­tive­ness of ex­tend­ing back­ground check re­quire­ments to pri­vate sales — un­less those re­quire­ments are paired with a per­mit­ting or li­cens­ing sys­tem for pur­chasers.

Still, state laws re­quir­ing checks via a per­mit­ting sys­tem do re­duce the di­ver­sion of guns for crim­i­nal use, homi­cides and sui­cides, and they may lower the risk of po­lice of­fi­cers be­ing shot in the line of duty. Only 10 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia re­quire per­mits for hand­gun pur­chasers; eight states re­quire back­ground checks for pri­vate sales but do not re­quire per­mits.

MYTH NO. 3 Men­tal ill­ness is be­hind most gun vi­o­lence against oth­ers.

Na­tional opin­ion polls show that the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans be­lieve that men­tal ill­ness, and the fail­ure of the men­tal-health sys­tem to iden­tify those at risk of dan­ger­ous be­hav­ior, is an im­por­tant cause of gun vi­o­lence.

Re­search says oth­er­wise. Only an es­ti­mated 4 per­cent of vi­o­lence against oth­ers is caused by the symp­toms of se­ri­ous men­tal ill­nesses such as schizophre­nia and bipo­lar dis­or­der. Im­pul­siv­ity, anger, trau­matic life events such as job loss or di­vorce, and prob­lem­atic al­co­hol use are all stronger risk fac­tors for gun vi­o­lence. Re­search also shows that men­tal-health­care providers are poor pre­dic­tors of which pa­tients will go on to harm oth­ers. Fur­ther, most peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness will never be­come vi­o­lent, and most gun vi­o­lence is not caused by men­tal ill­ness.

But men­tal ill­ness is a strong risk fac­tor for firearm sui­cide, which ac­counts for the ma­jor­ity of gun deaths in the United States. While im­prov­ing Amer­ica’s men­tal-health sys­tem would ben­e­fit mil­lions of peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness, it would not sub­stan­tially re­duce gun vi­o­lence against oth­ers.

MYTH NO. 4 Right-to-carry laws de­crease crime.

Sup­port­ers of right-to-carry laws, which re­quire the is­suance of con­cealed-carry hand­gun per­mits to ap­pli­cants who meet the cri­te­ria, of­ten ar­gue that car­ry­ing guns makes the pub­lic safer: The per­son with a gun will be able to pre­vent an at­tack or take down an ac­tive shooter. The econ­o­mist John Lott wrote in his book “More Guns, Less Crime” that right-to-carry laws are cor­re­lated with de­creases in vi­o­lent crime.

Yet the most com­pre­hen­sive study on the ef­fects of these laws found that vi­o­lent crime rates in­creased with each ad­di­tional year such a statute was in place, pre­sum­ably as more peo­ple were car­ry­ing guns. By 10 years af­ter the adop­tion of a right-to-carry law, vi­o­lent crime rates were 13 to 15 per­cent higher than pre­dicted had such laws not been in place.

Ad­di­tion­ally, armed civil­ians are rarely able to de­ter or in­ter­rupt var­i­ous crimes or even mass shoot­ings. In fact, in only four of the 111 mass shoot­ing in­ci­dents an­a­lyzed by re­searcher Louis Klarevas did an armed civil­ian stop a mass shoot­ing in progress. A sep­a­rate FBI anal­y­sis re­vealed that un­armed civil­ians are more than 20 times as likely to end an ac­tive shoot­ing than are armed civil­ians (ex­clud­ing armed se­cu­rity guards).

MYTH NO. 5 Mass shoot­ings are ran­dom.

High-pro­file tragedies like those in Las Ve­gas, where a mo­tive has yet to emerge, and in Aurora, Colo., tend to sup­port the pop­u­lar no­tion that mass shoot­ings are ran­dom — that there’s no con­nec­tion be­tween the killers and the tar­gets. “An­other day, an­other mas­sacre, and once again it’s a gun­man tar­get­ing strangers in a pub­lic place for no ob­vi­ous rea­son,” read one Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle on a mass shoot­ing at a Louisiana movie the­ater in 2015.

But most mass shoot­ings are di­rected at a spe­cific per­son, group or in­sti­tu­tion against which the per­pe­tra­tor has a griev­ance. A Huff­in­g­ton Post anal­y­sis of mass shoot­ings — which the FBI de­fines as four or more peo­ple killed with a firearm, not in­clud­ing the per­pe­tra­tor — be­tween 2009 and July 2015 found that 57 per­cent of the in­ci­dents in­volved a per­pe­tra­tor’s cur­rent or for­mer in­ti­mate part­ner or a family mem­ber, and 70 per­cent oc­curred in pri­vate dwellings.

While mass shoot­ings in pub­lic spa­ces that kill and wound dozens or even hun­dreds of peo­ple re­ceive plenty of me­dia at­ten­tion, smaller-scale gun vi­o­lence oc­curs with far too much reg­u­lar­ity in the United States, claim­ing nearly 100 lives ev­ery day. Most killers, in­clud­ing those who per­pe­trate mass shoot­ings, aren’t try­ing to mur­der strangers but are tar­get­ing peo­ple they know well.

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