Gun violence in the United States of America is a growing epidemic that has become a major public health and safety concern. Every year, thousands of people are killed or injured by firearms across the United States, making firearms the leading cause of death and injury in the country (Butkus et al., 2018). The rate of firearm homicide in the United States is six times higher than in other high-income countries, and suicide by firearm is also much more common. Gun violence can take many forms, including mass shootings, homicides, suicides, and accidental shooting (Wintemute, 2015). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were an estimated 30,000 firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2016. This figure represents a more than 10,000-person increase from 2015. Men commit the vast majority of gun violence in the United States. Male shooters are responsible for more than three-quarters of all firearm deaths in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that tracks gun violence data. Furthermore, gun violence disproportionately affects African Americans and Hispanics (Botty van den Bruele & Crandall, 2021). There are various causes of gun violence, including mental health issues, access to firearms, substance abuse, and lax gun laws.
Causes of Mass Violence
Mental Health Issues
Mental health issues have been linked to gun violence in the United States for many years. Studies have found that certain mental health conditions, such as depression and psychosis, are associated with an increased risk of violence. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with mental health conditions are more likely to react violently to stressful situations. This can lead them to commit acts of violence, such as shooting someone, even if they have never before displayed violent behavior. Following a traumatic event, such as a shooting, people with mental health conditions may experience intense feelings of sadness, anger, and fear. This can lead to an increased risk of violence (Swanson et al., 2016).
Mental health conditions can also lead to problems with impulse control, which can make it difficult for someone to control their actions when they are angry or upset. This can lead them to act out in a violent way, including using guns (Metzl, Piemonte & McKay, 2021). A research carried out by the University of Pennsylvania in 2016 found that people with mental health conditions are almost twice as likely to be involved in a mass shooting as those who do not have mental health conditions. This is because people with mental health conditions often have difficulty controlling their emotions, which can lead to them becoming violent (Metzl et al., 2021).
Access to Firearms
Access to firearms can contribute to mass gun violence in the United States in numerous ways. One of the most concerning aspects of the issue is the easy access to firearms, particularly military-style assault weapons, which are used in a high number of mass shootings. Firearms are also commonly obtained illegally, which makes them more difficult to track and regulate. For example, in the December 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, 20 children and six adults were killed by Adam Lanza using a military-style assault rifle that he had illegally obtained (Werbick et al., 2021).
Besides, access to firearms also contributes to mass gun violence through the use of firearms in suicides. For example, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that between 1999 and 2013, there were a total of 381 suicides involving firearms, including 247 with handguns and 126 with rifles. This indicates that firearm suicide is a major contributor to mass gun violence in the United States (Santaella-Tenorio et al., 2016). Mother Jones conducted a study in 2016 and discovered that states with more guns had higher rates of gun violence, including mass shootings. This suggests that the ease of access to firearms is a significant factor contributing to gun violence in the United States (Botty van den Bruele & Crandall, 2021).
Substance abuse has been linked to gun violence in the United States of America in a number of ways. For example, people who abuse alcohol or drugs are more likely to engage in impulsive and dangerous behaviors that can lead to violence. This includes things like using guns in fights or shooting at people without actually intending to kill them. A practical example of this is the case of Adam Lanza, who killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012 after he had been drinking heavily beforehand (Werbick et al., 2021).
Additionally, substance abusers are more likely to have troubled mental health histories that can lead to violent behavior. This is particularly true when it comes to drugs like methamphetamine, which can cause psychotic episodes and violence. All of this makes it very difficult for people who are struggling with substance abuse to stay safe and refrain from using guns in violent situations (Skeem & Mulvey, 2020). A good example of this is the case of Dylann Roof, who killed nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015 after spending time on white supremacist websites. In a similar case, Elliot Rodger killed six people and wounded fourteen others in Santa Barbara, California in 2014 after posting a series of videos detailing his Plans to kill women. Based on these examples, it is clear that substance abuse and mental health problems can lead to dangerous and violent behavior (Botty van den Bruele & Crandall, 2021).
Lax Gun Laws
The gun laws in the United States of America are considered to be some of the most lax in the world. This means that there are a lot of loopholes in these laws, which allows people with ill intentions to get their hands on firearms. This has led to an increase in gun violence in the United States of America, as criminals and terrorists can easily get their hands on firearms. In fact, there has been an increase of gun violence in the United States of America even after many measures were put into place in response to the Sandy Hook shooting (Hurka & Knill, 2020).
For instance, when purchasing a gun, there is a lack of universal background checks. Despite the fact that background checks are required for all gun purchases made through federally licensed firearms dealers, there are numerous loopholes in the system that allow criminals and other prohibited individuals to purchase firearms (Butkus et al., 2018). In fact, according to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, about two-thirds of federal firearms purchases (67%) are not subject to background checks, which implies that individuals who should not be able to purchase a firearm, such as convicted felons, domestic violence offenders, and the mentally ill, are often able to do so without any difficulty (Botty van den Bruele & Crandall, 2021).
Another loophole in gun ownership is the “Gun Show Loophole”: The Gun Show Loophole is a policy that allows licensed firearms dealers to sell firearms at gun shows without having to conduct background checks. This loophole has been repeatedly exploited by criminals and other prohibited individuals, who can buy firearms without going through a licensed dealer. There is also the “Firearm Transfers to Minors” loophole, which allows adults to transfer firearms to minors without a background check. Parents who want to give their children a gun as a gift have taken advantage of this loophole (Wintemute, 2015).
It is clear that a combination of mental health issues, access to firearms, substance abuse, and lax gun laws have all contributed to America’s high levels of gun violence. Individuals with mental health issues, for example, are more likely to be violent and commit suicide, and those with easy access to firearms are much more likely to commit homicide. Similarly, substance abuse is known to increase the likelihood of suicide and other violent behaviors, while lax gun laws make it easy for criminals to obtain firearms. All of these factors need to be considered when trying to reduce gun violence in the United States.
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Santaella-Tenorio, J., Cerdá, M., Villaveces, A., & Galea, S. (2016). What Do We Know About the Association Between Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Injuries? Epidemiologic Reviews, 38(1), 140–157. https://doi.org/10.1093/epirev/mxv012
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Werbick, M., Bari, I., Paichadze, N., & Hyder, A. A. (2021). Firearm violence: a neglected “Global Health” issue. Globalization and health, 17(1), 1-5.
Wintemute, G. J. (2015). The epidemiology of firearm violence in the twenty-first century United States. Annual review of public health, 36, 5-19.