No matter which way you lean politically, one thing should be clear to everyone: America is facing a crisis of killing, and guns are the weapons of choice. As I write this late Thursday, the country is reeling again from another mass shooting, this time at a country music bar in California. For the record, this is the 307th time this year a gunman has wounded or killed at least four people beside himself. We are on pace to average an incident about once a day in this country. I would say that definitely qualifies as a crisis.
Obviously figures are not in for all of 2018, but we can look at gun violence for 2014 through 2017 to identify a disturbing trend upward. According to gunviolencearchive.org, an independent data collection and research group with no affiliation with any advocacy organization, there were 44,815 violent firearm incidents in 2014 with 12,486 deaths and 22,867 injuries. Those victims included 610 children (ages 0-11) and 2,320 teens (ages 12-17), and 2014 saw 261 incidents where a police officer was shot or killed. Mass shootings totaled 270 that year.
The number of incidents climbed to 53,763 in 2015 with 13,539 deaths and 27,050 injuries. A total of 695 children and 2,698 teens were killed or injured, and 320 officers were shot or killed. There were 335 mass shootings.
The number of mass shootings climbed to 382 in 2016, including the one at Excel Industries in Hesston. That’s more that one per day on average. Incidents rose to 58,956 with 15,109 deaths and 30,639 injuries. Children killed or injured: 671. Teens: 3,134. Officers: 327.
As 2017 came to a close, violent gun incidents increased again to a total of 61,877 with 15,673 deaths and 31,255 injuries. Children killed or injured tallied 732, and teens were victims 3,247 times. At total of 315 officers were killed or injured. Mass shootings were down a bit at 346.
There is no reason to believe that 2018 will bring an end to this mostly upward trend. These statistics indicate that we are becoming an increasingly violent culture. That is indisputable. What is less clear, however, is where to place the blame. Shall we point the finger at video games, where a shooter’s aim is improved and sensitivity to suffering is decreased? How about TV and movies, where death and mayhem bring in the big bucks at box offices and big ratings to the small screen? Should we wonder whether the hard-charging rhetoric from politicians and pundits has contributed? Does less civility and more heated debate lead to increased violence in our institutions, including schools and places of worship? Can a general proliferation of assault-style weapons and more powerful ammunition be at least partially to blame? Is our care of the mentally ill woefully inadequate? Is the rise in shootings a product of all these contributing factors?
There will be those who want to argue that the answer lies in arming more Americans, not fewer. They would have us believe that if we put our trust and faith in firearms, we can fight back this statistical onslaught. But, if the latest string of mass shootings shows us anything, it’s that if we don’t make some kind of adjustments somewhere and somehow, we are heading down a path that will only lead to more suffering, not less.