GUEST EDITORIAL: Everyday toll of gun violence in America

Posted June 12, 2018 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated June 19, 2018 5:00 p.m. EDT

This editorial initially appeared in The New York Times.

In the two years since the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, there have been at least 700 mass shootings — defined as involving four or more victims — across the United States.

Yet mass shootings represent just a fraction of the nation’s gun violence. On an average day, 96 Americans die by firearms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About two in every three of those are suicides.

Mass killings garner more attention because they are, by definition, so horrific. They also often shatter celebrations at clubs or music festivals, or violate sanctuaries like high schools or churches. Each massacre prompts national soul searching and reignites debates over gun regulation. In no other country does this kind of violence take place so frequently.

But most harm done by guns does not prompt such national self-examination. The data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group, tracks gun violence using police reports, news coverage and other public sources. As a result, the organization reports different numbers than the CDC. Still, the data illustrates how mass shootings occur against a backdrop of incessant, routine violence.

“You can’t get people excited about gun control because there’s a domestic homicide, an isolated case somewhere in America,” said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University. “You can’t even get them excited because there are 45 of them a day.”

On the other hand, mass shootings galvanize political discussion around what could help address routine gun violence, even if such discussion rarely leads to more than incremental progress.

In Florida, shootings at Pulse and, later, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, resulted in a modest slate of new state gun laws signed in March by Gov. Rick Scott. These included raising the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21 and extending the waiting period to three days. The National Rifle Association filed a lawsuit shortly after the bills were enacted.

“There’s a way to acknowledge the severity of what happened at Pulse,” said Sarah Tofte, the research director at Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group. “There’s also a way to raise up the ways in which individuals experience that every day in this country.”

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