It has been 13 years since the murders at Columbine High School, when two teenagers killed 13 people and wounded 21 others. Since that time, ABC reports, there have been 31 school shootings.
“Senseless” seems to be the most frequently used word to describe the awful events at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, and senseless it surely was. Still, we hunger for explanation. What can it be that possesses a man to gun down little children, each child shot multiple times? What can we do to protect against such insanity?
Guns, we hear repeatedly, don’t kill people; people kill people. But the weapon of choice for people bent on killing people is a gun. Guns are used in more than two-thirds of the murders in this country. A simple thought exercise: Absent guns, would the number of murders go up or go down? Knives, hands and blunt instruments are inherently less lethal, more intimate and, perhaps most important, more time-consuming.
Some statistics: America’s homicide rates are 6.9 times higher than rates in the other high-income countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that are 19.5 times higher. For 15-year olds to 24-year olds, firearm homicide rates in the United States are 42.7 times higher than in the other countries. For American males, firearm homicide rates are 22.0 times higher, and for American females, firearm homicide rates are 11.4 times higher.
The United States’ firearm suicide rates are 5.8 times higher than in the other countries, though overall suicide rates are 30 percent lower. Unintentional firearm deaths in the U.S. are 5.2 times higher than in the other countries. Among the 23 countries of the OECD, 80 percent of all firearm deaths occur in the United States, 86 percent of women killed by firearms are U.S. women, and 87 percent of all children aged 0 to 14 killed by firearms are U.S. children.
Yet the easy availability of guns in America is not the whole story. True, the rate of people killed by guns in the U.S. is 19.5 times higher than in similar high-income countries in the world, and true also that 45 percent of Americans say they have a gun in their homes, also a rate not approached in comparable countries. But these figures reflect a cultural difference at least as much as they signify inadequate gun control legislation and enforcement.