Mass shootings are tragic, and I don’t mean to dismiss the suffering of those who have endured tragic losses from mass shootings. But, to be blunt, the way we are treating mass shootings is detracting tremendously from many, many other tragedies that are far more prevalent and urgent, and so it might feel to you like I’m trying to say mass shootings don’t matter. Try to look past the matter of shootings to what I’m really talking about here, which is that poverty is killing so many more people than mass shootings, and it’s definitely “too soon” to talk about poverty, too, because poverty probably just killed more than 17 people while I wrote this paragraph, and it’ll kill another 17 while you read it.
Mass shootings are an incredibly sensational news item. Especially when a bunch of school children are slaughtered, which seems to be par for the course. The public reaction is immediate, intense, widespread, visceral. And it is further proof of American classism and racism.
Why do I say this? Because Americans are dying all the time from all kinds of things, but these shootings are different because middle and upper class people can see themselves in this tragedy. When a school shooting happens, it’s killing people who were supposed to be privileged. People who were supposed to be safe. People who were supposed to be healthy, and get nice careers, and live in nice houses, and enjoy most of the benefits of America’s hard-fought #1 GDP slot. When these privileged people are killed, we feel like they were cheated. When poor people, people of color are killed in isolation from rich people, white people? Well, that’s just the way it is, right? Doesn’t matter by how much the death totals of the poor dwarf the totals of the privileged; it’s not a tragedy if that’s just the way it is, right?
Yes, I am going to be attempting to trivialize the school shooting that just happened because school shootings are trivial, on a national scale. Personal tragedy with which we can strongly relate is not more important than personal tragedy to which we cannot readily relate. Call me what you have to, but you’re the one being insensitive to everyone who isn’t a privileged person who suddenly got scared that the world isn’t safe. Nobody else felt safe to begin with, and, hilariously, the scared privileged people are still very safe; being killed in one of these shootings is statistically similar to being eaten by a T-Rex.
Let’s look at some numbers.
About 2.6 million Americans die every year from a variety of causes.
Of that number, about 33,000 will be caused by gunshot wounds.
Of those gun deaths, a supermajority of about 22,000 will be suicides.
Of the remaining 11,000 only a few hundred at most are likely to be caused by mass shootings. The rest are targeted homicides and police executions.
2017 was one of the worst years ever for mass shooting deaths. They accounted for a whopping 0.01% of deaths.
So, if we look at things that are likely to be killing Americans, we find that mass shootings are likely to kill a maximum of 0.0001% of Americans this year. One death is too many, though, right? Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to stop even one death? Sure. But, opportunity costs are not irrelevant.
How many lives would we have to lose to America’s real problems for each life we save from a mass shooting? For example, how many kids in Flint, MI will get lead poisoning because we set up a buy-back program to reclaim hundreds of millions of guns instead of funding new water infrastructure? Mass shooting deaths are so few compared with most causes of death that it would likely cost astronomically more per life saved compared to other more common but less sensational causes of death.
The only way to justify it would be if we valued some lives more than others. Like, if we valued the lives of middle and upper class children a lot more than we valued the lives of poor and colored children, then it would make sense for us to be glued to this mass-shooting issue taking the lives of a few relatively privileged kids while poor kids die en masse all over the country from causes related to poverty.
Mass shootings are tragic and horrible. And yet, it is strange to give them such a disproportionately large share of attention when they exist in a context of so much tragedy and horror. Yes, mass shootings are a problem. I wish that mass shootings were one of the biggest problems we’re facing right now. But, despite how much bigger a problem they are in the U.S. than most places, they are one of our smallest problems.
Can we go back to talking about economic inequality yet? Can we please go back to talking about the real source of virtually all violent crime in America, which is economic inequality, and the desperation that imposed poverty causes, which often leads to crime or emasculation, which often lead to violence? Can we please go back to talking about American imperialism and hegemony, and note that those are maintained by and for the benefit of the same 0.01% of wealthiest Americans whose riches skew our financial statistics so unequally, and how their geopolitical machinations are called “American interests” which include, among other things, maintaining America’s leadership in the gun manufacturing industry by encouraging sales volume through lax regulation and lucrative government contracts?
It always traces back to that 0.01%. Every single horror in the world traces back to those 0.01% of wealthy bastards. Gun violence, climate change, war, terrorism, election rigging, pollution, you name it, it all traces back to the 0.01% of wealthy bastards and their evil schemes to get even richer. Yeah, yeah, the world wouldn’t be perfect without them, but they’re definitely exacerbating a lot of the existing issues and creating extras, and until their influence is removed, we can’t even see what’s “naturally” occurring. Profit maximization includes exploitation maximization, and exploitation includes subjecting us all to gun violence for more profit and continued military dominance.
America has only one core problem, and it is that a very small group of very wealthy individuals have purchased our government and are using it to conquer and contort the entire global economy in their favor. Mass shootings are but one of the myriad consequences. Eyes on the prize: first we need to wrench control of our government from the two corporate parties owned by the oligarchs. Only after they are excised from legislative control can we expect any reforms to have teeth or sticking power. Nothing else can have any lasting impact until after we break their stranglehold on our government.
You want to change gun laws? Why bother? Unless you change how Congress gets chosen, the NRA and the rest of military-industrial complex behind them are going to make sure America’s gun industry regains favor and dominance as soon as most people lose interest, which will be a couple months after the last big shooting to make the news.
Change Congress. Change elections. Change politics to be more representative of the people. Then, the laws will change almost automatically, because a strong majority of Americans already support much stronger gun regulations.
If everyone who thinks the system is broken made election reform their single-issue, we would win the House and Presidency and a third of the Senate in a single election, and the rest of the Senate in the subsequent two elections as their terms expired. “Landslide” would be an understatement. We could have a new Constitution by 2022. 2020 if things go well.
And, bringing it back to the topic of the day, that new constitution would probably not have quite the same second amendment.