Of wealthy nations, the USA is most violent
How can America be so rich, and yet so ridden with violence? Sunday night’s horror in Las Vegas was the country’s 272nd mass shooting of the year. Murder and violent crime are up. Why?
After the horror, comes the soul-searching and the familiar ritual of mourning. Flags are lowered, thoughts and prayers tweeted and the emergency services are thanked.
But as Steve Israel writes in The New York Times: “The most asked question by Americans is: ‘Will anything change?’ The simple answer is no. The more vital question is: ‘Why not?’”
Last year 17,250 people were murdered in the United States. That is an average of 47 people per day, or one every 31 minutes.
Yes, it used to be worse. The murder rate has halved since 1980. But one inescapable fact remains: the USA is the most violent rich country in the world. By a long way.
An American is four times more likely to be murdered than a Briton, and 12 times more likely than a Japanese person.
And then there are the mass shootings. Since 1982 there have been at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country. In 49 of those cases, the guns had been bought legally.
Yet this is still America, the country millions of people would give everything to live in. The world’s largest economy and the leader of the free world. An unparalleled hub of creativity, technology and opportunity. The wider world struggles to understand why the USA is so rife with violence.
After almost every shooting, public opinion on gun laws barely shifts. Both sides double down and wait for the next tragedy.
In this, America seems to be unique. For, in 1996 there were examples of countries radically altering their laws after mass shootings.
In the UK, Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and one teacher at a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland. This led to two new Firearms Acts being passed, which greatly restricted private ownership of guns.
Seven weeks later, in Australia, Martin Bryant entered a café and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, killing 35 people. The country’s prime minister, John Howard, just six weeks into the job, gave the order to confiscate roughly 650,000 privately held guns. Murders have since plummeted.
Could the same thing happen in America?
“Eventually there will be a tipping point,” say some. Polls show that the majority of Americans support individual policies to control guns, such as bans on semi-automatic weapons. All the data shows that fewer guns results in less gun crime. Eventually the country will put the two together. Change is possible.
“Wishful thinking,” reply others. Guns are to Americans what wine is to the French or property rights to the British: it is part of the country’s DNA in a way that non-Americans will never fully understand. If change does not come after dozens of schoolchildren or scores of concert-goers are massacred, it never will.
- Will America ever end its love affair with guns?
- Should privately held firearms be forcefully confiscated?
- Design a memorial for the victims of Friday’s shooting. It can take any form you choose.
- Write a timeline of the history of gun ownership in the USA, beginning with the Second Amendment. How have things changed since then?
Some People Say...
“Violence in America cannot be solved by legislation.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- The Second Amendment of the US Constitution enshrines the right to bear arms, meaning that gun ownership is sacred to millions of Americans. However, the country now has a murder rate higher than any rich country in the world. Unlike Sunday’s mass shooting, the majority of gun murders are carried out with ordinary pistols, rather than automatic or semi-automatic weapons.
- What do we not know?
- Whether the example set by states with strict gun laws, such as California and most of New England, will ever spread to more rural, conservative states in America. We also do not know whether Donald Trump will take action. In the past he has spoken in favour of tighter laws, but he courted the support of the National Rifle Association during his bid for the presidency.
- According to a report for 2016 by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). According to the US Gun Violence Archive, which lists this year’s shootings, there was a further mass shooting on the day after the Nevada outrage, with three dead and two injured in Florida.
- Murder rate
- For 2015 the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recorded the world’s highest murder rates, excluding war zones, per 100,000 inhabitants, as El Salvador 108.64 and Honduras 63.75 (both in Central America). By way of comparison, the US figure was 4.88, the UK 0.92.
- 61 mass murders
- 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the USA; Finland came second with just two.
- British tennis player Andy Murray attended Dunblane Primary School and was present at the massacre. He and his classmates took cover in a classroom.
- Dozens of schoolchildren
- The worst example in a school was in December 2012: Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Five days later, President Obama announced he would make gun control a "central issue" of his second term in office.