Regardless of political persuasion, viewpoint, or perspective, mass shootings such as Vegas, Orlando, and Columbine elicit that gut-searing pain in just about everyone. The senseless deaths and injuries, panic, unnecessary pain and loss frustrate our efforts to understand the unfathomable.
Yet here we are, with a highly publicized, troubling statistic of 477 mass shootings — defined by the FBI as killing four or more people in the same event — in the U.S. since the Orlando nightclub shooter killed 49 people in June 2016. That doesn’t even take into account escalations against police officers. What’s going on?
No matter where you fall in debates over regulation, this level of gun use against innocents begs further discussion of the right approach to curb it. There are no easy answers, but a truly unique American philosophy drives our resistance to addressing it by restricting access.
Because we have family in Europe and Asia, I often note the differences in perspectives. Private gun ownership is also legal in the U.K., for example, although more regulated; yet our British connections just can’t understand why Americans are so vehement about restrictions (while keeping private ownership legal) in the face of so many deaths.
That’s because we approach gun rights from opposite directions. To illustrate, let’s start with numbers.
According to statistics reported in the New York Times Interpreter, the U.S. averages 89 guns per 100 people, more than any other country. Canada also has one of the world’s highest rates, at 30 per 100 people. In the U.K., it’s only six per 100.
Firearm-related deaths directly correlate. Americans represent less than 5 percent of global population, but own 42 percent of its private firearms. America’s gun homicide rate is 30 per one million people; in Canada and U.K., it’s 5 and 0.7, respectively.
Thus to the rest of the world, that’s a no-brainer. When they experienced mass shootings, they simply added regulation — beefing up background checks, assault weapons restrictions, limiting access by those with mental illness, domestic violence, and other histories. Their gun violence and suicide deaths quickly plummeted.
To them, the rights of the public to be free from such violence weighed greater than the rights of individuals to freer access to firearms.
And there’s the key difference: We see things in reverse.
It is, apparently, uniquely American to place the rights of the individual (to have fuller and freer access) first and foremost. So important to us is this philosophy that our laws don’t even allow state governments to fully collect or monitor certain gun-related statistics.
In other words, what other cultures consider an obvious safety issue, a majority of Americans consider an obvious privacy issue. Put differently, where others draw the line and compromise for the sake of security and safety, we remain steadfast in refusing to make such trade-offs, in fear of losing precious freedom.
That perspective comes at a heavy price.
Sholeh Patrick, J.D. is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.