At least 26 killed in Texas church slaughter

The Wild West: There are 270m guns in America among a population of 320m.

Are guns the danger, or the people who fire them? America is once again in mourning after dozens were killed at a church in Texas. It is the country’s 307th mass shooting this year.

Drive for 40 minutes east of San Antonio, Texas, and you reach the small, unobtrusive settlement of Sutherland Springs. At its centre is the village’s mainstay: the First Baptist Church.

On Sunday a 26-year-old man called Devin Patrick Kelley entered the church clad in black, with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and an assault rifle in his hands. He turned this innocent village into the scene of America’s latest mass horror.

At least 26 people have died, ranging in age from 18 months to 77 years. The gunman is dead too, and it appears he was chased from the church by an armed parishioner in his car. “Half the congregation is gone,” said one eyewitness.

So here we are again. The same debates. The same inquests. The same mourning and nationwide soul-searching. The repetitiveness can feel numbing, but the figures for mass shootings and gun violence in the USA are staggering.

On average, there is slightly more than one mass shooting every day in America. Indeed there were three relatively small ones just on Saturday, in Texas, California and Ohio. All the five deadliest shootings in the USA have occurred in the past ten years. While America has about 5% of the world's population, it has 31% of all mass shootings.

Firearms sales soar after every shooting, but these events are just the tip of the gun violence iceberg.

There is roughly one gun-related death every hour. That is a rate nearly six times higher than Canada. Over half of these are suicides, and the states with the most guns report the most suicides. Guns kill nearly 1,300 US children each year.

Most studies show that, with a few exceptions, the states with tight gun legislation have fewer gun deaths. For example, Alaska has the highest rate and allows citizens to openly carry handguns without a permit. Meanwhile, the city of New York, which requires permits to own any firearm, has one of the lowest gun violence rates of any major city.

Almost half of the civilian-owned guns in the world are in America. But are they, in themselves, dangerous?

American carnage

“A gun inside a locked safe in the hands of a responsible owner harms no-one,” say some. If guns kill people, then so do cars, kitchen knives and bricks. Concentrating on the weapon of choice avoids tougher questions about the motives that drive people to commit murder. People, not inanimate objects, kill people.

“What rubbish,” reply others. Guns are not like cars; they are made to hurt people. The statistics are clear: more guns means more murders. Americans are no more naturally violent than Europeans. The statistical disparity is solely down to guns. And if people are inherently dangerous, then why give them the perfect tools for violence?

You Decide

  1. Is it guns that are dangerous — or the people who use them?
  2. Will America ever end its love-affair with guns?

Activities

  1. Up until yesterday 346 have died in mass shootings in the USA this year. At that rate, calculate how many there will have been by the end of the year.
  2. Write a speech to deliver to the US Congress explaining how they should tackle gun crime in the country.

Some People Say...

“There are no good guys or bad guys. Just people with guns.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The shooting occurred during morning services at the First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, a town of 600 people in Texas. The gunman exited his vehicle and began firing outside the church, then walking to the side of the church and then inside, firing all the time. After he left the church, he exchanged fire with an armed bystander. Kelley then got in his car while the bystander waved down a man in a vehicle and the two chased after him. He then crashed his car in a neighbouring county and was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
What do we not know?
His motive. His background indicates a life of trouble. The authorities have not yet released the names of the gunman’s victims, though some names have come to light.

Word Watch

Devin Patrick Kelley
The 26-year-old, who lived around 30 miles north of Sutherland Springs, was a former member of the US Air Force. He was kicked out of the military by court martial, meaning that he would not have been able to purchase a firearm legally in any state. He had also been jailed for domestic abuse, divorced and charged with animal cruelty.
Mass shooting
Defined by the website Gun Violence Archive as an event where at least four people are shot.
Texas, California and Ohio
Four people were injured in Austin, Texas, four more in Youngstown, Ohio, while three people were injured and one killed in Santa Monica, California.
All the five deadliest shootings
In order they are: Las Vegas in October (58 killed) , the Orlando nightclub attack (49), the Virginia Tech massacre (32), Sandy Hook (27) and Sutherland Springs (26).
Firearms sales soar
After the Sandy Hook shooting, Barack Obama called for new laws to make it harder to purchase assault rifles. In the month after, 3.3m background checks were conducted as people rushed to stockpile weapons.

Subjects

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