Viewing Mass Murder As a Public Health Problem: Why Are We Shocked and Surprised?

Until much more information is revealed, we don’t really know why the gunman in Aurora murdered 12 people and injured 71 more. But what we do know is that it’s a lot easier to murder many people with guns than knives or baseball bats (although you can do that too). What I do not understand is why people are shocked anymore. Not only are gun-involved massacres common, in general, the U.S. has been and is an incredibly violent society:


In case you’re having a hard time reading the vertical axes, they’re all to the same scale, and the U.S. is the bottom right figure. American Exceptionalism at its finest.

Given that we are an exceptionally violent society, the obvious solution would be to limit access to guns, especially those guns that whose primary purpose is to kill people.

Yes, the overwhelming percentage of guns are not used to kill people. But if you have enough guns, and enough violent people with access to those guns, massacres are inevitable. To deny otherwise would be like arguing that even if people don’t get their pertussis shots, we won’t have whooping cough outbreaks. We’ve tried that. Hasn’t worked so well.

What will be infuriating during the next week is that there will be no explicit statements by Very Serious People that we have decided that the occasional murder spree is an acceptable component of U.S. life, even though we have done exactly that:

The reality is simple: every country struggles with madmen and ideologues with guns, and every country—Canada, Norway, Britain—has had a gun massacre once, or twice. Then people act to stop them, and they do—as over the past few years has happened in Australia. Only in America are gun massacres of this kind routine, expectable, and certain to continue…

Make sure that guns designed for no reason save to kill people are freely available to anyone who wants one—and that is, and remains, the essential American condition—and then be shocked when children are killed.

So what’s the over/under on how long it takes to disappear yet another massacre of children down the memory hole?

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18 Responses to Viewing Mass Murder As a Public Health Problem: Why Are We Shocked and Surprised?

  1. Drugmonkey says:

    But how else do we keep the tyrannical oppressor Obama from taking our rights and enslaving all the white people? Fox news warns that this would happen if we couldn’t get our 100 rd drum clips for semi-auto AR-15 deer rifles.

  2. John of Indiana says:

    Here it comes, another round of “We gotta do SOMETHING!” laws that impact law-abiding citizens who own firearms for sport and self-defense while doing nothing to address the roots of crime or lack of easily-accessible mental health care in this country.
    What, you gonna offer me a $100 WalMart gift card or a free movie ticket in exchange for my M1 Garand? A rifle worth over $1,000? That’s a laugh. Same for my handguns, they’re not cheap “Saturday Night Specials” y’know.
    No, you’ll get my guns when you hold me at gunpoint (ironic, isn’t it?) while you systematically dismantle my home rooting them out.
    And at that point in time, I’ll understand that my basic human right to self-defense is no more. and I live in a Totalitarian (probably an Authoritarian Theocracy) country.

  3. John, you are a profoundly paranoid and delusional individual, and you really should consider seeking help from a qualified mental health professional.

    • John of Indiana says:

      Tobasco, Nice Ad Hominem.
      People like you can’t get it through your thick skulls that people like me are NOT the problem.
      Are you trying to tell me that I have no right to self-defense? What, I should just dial 911 and wait 1/2 an hour for the only available deputy to run from the other end of the county 25 miles away?
      Since were having an ad hominem-flinging contest, I assume you, what, live in a gated community in a nice lower upper-class community where you have plenty of hired guns (police) patrolling to keep you safe?

      • bad Jim says:

        John, an insult is not an ad hominem argument.
        An M-1 is a pretty decent hunting weapon, I’ve heard. An AR-15 with a 100-round drum is a little harder to justify for either hunting or self-defense.

      • Chris in Hanoi says:

        Accusing someone of ad hominem when they call you paranoid and delusional is ballsy and delightfully ironic.

  4. JohnV says:

    Is the base assumption that the only thing keeping all those other countries from being violent homicidal hell holes like the united states the “absence” of guns? Absence in quotes because I don’t know the specifics of gun availability (types, regulations, etc).

  5. Mokele says:

    Look, I can sympathize with John from Indiana, in that I have a beloved hobby (snake keeping) invoking something dangerous that’s often ruined by morons who endanger themselves, others, and the entire ecosystem.

    Just as with guns, there are those idiots who will scream bloody murder if anyone suggests restricting their right to keep a king cobra in a poorly secured unlocked cage in a commercial apartment building. But many of us are willing to accept sensible regulations arrived at through mutual negotiation, especially when the alternative is blanket bans.

    I hate to sound like a knee jerk moderate, but maybe the gun owners need to act sensibly and meet halfway. Accept that you might need to sacrifice your “right” to own some extremely dangerous hardware to keep the right to own any weapon at all.

    After all, any sensible person realizes that you cannot totally elimate guns, and any sensible person realizes that there must be at least some restriction on what weapons can be owned, if only so people cannot use the 2nd amendment to defend their right to own nukes, rocket launchers, and artillery. So really, the only question is *where* to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable, and the sort of regulation needed for the “grey zone”.

  6. JDManthrosciguy says:

    Anyone calling Canada a totalitarian country is an idiot, John of Indiana. Here’s an interesting tidbit about Canada and handguns, BTW. A few years ago I went on a couple St Patrick’s Day pub crawls and two years running happened to sit next to Canadians who were handgun enthusiasts. One time it was a couple who also went to competitions in the USA and Canada. So, being curious, I asked about the hoops they had to jump through to get and use handguns (Canadians have about as many guns per capita as Americans). Turns out the “hoops” were pretty much non-existent. You fill out a form and they check with the cops to make sure you don’t have a criminal record and aren’t insane, and then you get your permit. That’s it.

    In fact, the biggest problem they had was when they’d go to the States for competitions, because they couldn’t buy ammo there (although obviously you can easily buy it online as the Colorado shooter did) and they were only allowed as much as they’d use and couldn’t bring any back. The problem there is that in these competitions you don’t know how many rounds of competition you’ll pass so you don’t really know is you need 200, 500, or 1000 rounds of ammo. So ironically the only real difficulty they had in buying and using handguns was when going to the USA, while we allow nutcases like the Colorado shooter to buy 6,000 rounds and a 100 round magazine. Only idiots support the selling of items like that to the general public, and you need to be an even bigger idiot to support selling them online or at gun shows.

  7. bad Jim says:

    It’s tough to figure out what sorts of restrictions would actually help. It seems seems like a no-brainer to prohibit the sale of assault weapons like the AR-15, which as far as I know aren’t legal for hunting, and likewise large capacity magazines. In individual cases, like Loughner in Arizona, who was jumped when he stopped to reload, a smaller magazine would have meant fewer casualties, but in other cases (Fort Hood, Virginia Tech) the shooter was able to rack up an impressive score with only conventional handguns.

  8. Misaki says:


    “So I hope I have proved that basically all problems in society are the result of stupidity, and that refusing to support the accelerated work week is equivalent to saying that you are prepared to defend yourself against attack by a random person who feels that it is the morally correct thing to do.”

  9. Newcastle says:

    I don’t see what could be done to effectively change what happened. Even if he had not had a 100 round drum he could have carried a couple standard clips instead. It only takes a second to reload, it would not have changed a thing. Same goes for him buying the guns, he was, by any outward standard, a normal person when he bought those guns. What would you have to had have in place that would have prevented him from buying those guns? A full on psych evaluation for every person in America prior to purchasing a gun? Yeah, that’s realistic. There are a couple hundred million guns in this country and close to half the population is hell bent on keeping it that way. I’m living in Utah and the level of cc permit carrying gun owners would melt the brain of the folks living in the northeast part of this country. I’m no fan of all of these damned guns but I also realize that more people in this country want them than want to get rid of them. I don’t agree but it is part of living in a democracy, if the majority is hell bent on getting something they tend to get it.

  10. Why post graphs that are not explained, and which tabulate data that may have very little to do with the recent massacre? Most gun-related mayhem is drug and gang related. For you to post graphs which include these data points, and present them as relevant to “Viewing Mass Murder As a Public Health Problem” is disingenuous at best, and intellectually dishonest at worst. And it isn’t helping progressive values.

    Most of the discussion here – and it is by well-meaning folks – is somewhat irrelevant. The U.S. has an unusual Constitution which elevates the protected freedoms of religious expression and gun ownership to a level considered obsessive if not fetishistic everywhere else in the civilized world. You want to change gun violence statistics? Legalize drugs. Or amend the Constitution.

    Cause bitching about it, weaving false arguments using deceptive graphs, stoking the flames of the four decade-long failed movement for gun ownership restrictions as a political badge of the Democratic party is a strategy that gives Republicans eternal joy. Do you have any idea how many idiots vote Republican against their own economic interests, and the most important reason for them to do this is to ‘keep Democrats from taking away their guns’?

    FFS, the Supreme Court just made it crystal clear that the Second Amendment protects individual gun ownership rights! It is batshit crazy for anyone with a progressive vision for our country to associate themselves with this issue for one more minute. The problems with gun violence do not have anything to do with gun ownership. I live in Vermont. We have extremely liberal gun ownership laws. We don’t need to get a permit to carry concealed weapons here. And we have the lowest rate of gun violence in the country.

    We have a lot of important things we need to get done for our country and the planet, and keeping Republicans in power over gun rights is NOT helping one fucking iota.

    • Bill says:

      I think the graphs are explained. They are assault deaths per 100k and it’s labelled right there on the axis for you to see. Of course that is not necessarily gun deaths, but that is not the point. The graphs are to illustrate that the US is an exceptionally violent society.

      Having shown that, we must ask what the plausible consequences might be of making lethal weapons freely available in such a society.

      “Do you have any idea how many idiots vote Republican against their own economic interests, and the most important reason for them to do this is to ‘keep Democrats from taking away their guns’?” is at first sight a reasonable point, other than the implied slight (actually, it’s not even implied. Come right on out and call them idiots). But it is a false argument that as a result advocates for gun control should stay silent in the face of *yet another* deadly rampage committed using firearms.

      Any desire to own a deadly weapon, unless you wish to use it for sport at a supervised range or for hunting, is simply incompatible with membership of a civilized society. Thing is, this isn’t a civilized society.

      • Yes, the U.S. is a violent society, whatever that means. But as I said, these graphs do not show what the influence of drugs and gangs have on this picture. This article, btw, is not about a violent culture – it is in reaction to the Colorado mass shooting. The vast, vast majority of assault in general and gun crime in particular has absolutely nothing to do with deranged individuals opening fire.

        The number of gun-related deaths/injuries committed by deranged nuts is miniscule compared to other routine carnage and mayhem. More people die from bee stings every year. Twice as many from lightning. At least 800 times more people die in car accidents.It does not make sense to let this be a campaign issue – do you not see this?

        Billions of people are going to die from global-warming induced starvation, and a large part of that is because of Tea Bagger Republicans in the U.S. Congress, elected in large part, to wedge issues like gun control. Billions vs a few hundred over the long term.

        Give this issue up – please!

  11. anthrosciguy says:

    I don’t see what could be done to effectively change what happened. Even if he had not had a 100 round drum he could have carried a couple standard clips instead

    Yes, he could’ve had 20 5-round clips, and a weapon not so easily converted back to full automatic. It could’ve been harder to get 6,000 rounds of ammo, and definitely not online. You really don’t think any of this would matter at all? Come on.

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