After yet another mass shooting in the U.S., which once again involved a bunch of children getting murdered in their school, the familiar gun debates are playing out all over the regular media and social media. These are the scripts:
“We have a gun problem in America.” “We don’t have a gun problem, we have a mental health problem.”
“We have a gun problem in America.” “We don’t have a gun problem, we have a bullying problem.”
“We have a gun problem in America.” “We don’t have a gun problem, we have a culture problem.”
If the most recent shooter were not a white male the list would also include “We have a gun problem in America.” “We don’t have a gun problem, we have a terrorist problem.”
The next phase of the debates goes, like this:
“We should solve the gun problem by limiting people’s access to guns.” “We can’t do that because it’s not a gun problem it’s …(see above).”
“We should solve the gun problem by limiting people’s access to guns.” “We can’t do that because the Second Amendment.”
As the debate goes on it progresses into debates about what an assault riffle is or isn’t, the good guy with a gun trope, the actual meaning of the Second Amendment, etc. Many of these are actually important conversations that we as a country should be continuously engaging in, but the starting points for these debates are ridiculous on their face.
We have a gun problem in America. We also have a mental health problem, and a drug problem. We have a bullying problem in schools. We have a racism problem. We have problems with male entitlement and toxic masculinity and violence. And we have problems with religious fanatics and terrorists. None of these problems precludes any of the others.
What makes the gun problem stand out is that it enables the other problems to become deadly very efficiently, and when the shooting is a mass shooting it stands out even more. However, none of these problems are limited to mass shootings. By far the most common form of gun death in the U.S. is suicide; most years there are almost twice as many gun suicides as there are gun homicides in America. Another type of gun violence that’s sadly common place in the U.S. now is women being shot to death by their current or former romantic partner, this accounts for roughly half of the homicides of women in the U.S. Both suicides and murders are more likely to involve handguns, which kill exponentially more Americans each year than all kinds of rifles and shotguns combined.
Preventing these and other types of gun deaths will mean letting go of stupid debates based on the false premise that the U.S. can only have one type of problem. It will mean making real investments in things like health care that includes mental health care and suicide prevention. It will also mean dealing with the reality of contemporary sexism and racism in America, while simultaneously confronting religious fundamentalist terrorism and bullying and whatever else contributes to the continued prevalence of gun violence in the U.S. Solutions won’t come from endlessly rehashing the same back and forth, they will come from searching for real actionable information on what compels people to act violently, and mitigating those causes. Preventing gun deaths will also necessarily involve limiting access to guns by people who intend to use them to cause harm. Specifically that entails enacting laws to require background checks, blocking people who have committed violent crimes from owning guns, and enforcing responsible chain of ownership for firearms. There are no easy solutions to stopping mass shootings or other forms of gun deaths in the U.S., but there are possible solutions.