What Does a Week of Gun Violence Look Like in America?

ResearchBlogging.orgThe reason for carrying a gun in America is an obvious and understandable one: protection. After all, there are lots of weapon-wielding psychos out there in dark masks – just think about what happened at Aurora. This is what one Connecticut man thought yesterday when he saw someone in a black ski mask wielding a knife in his sister’s driveway (the next door over to his house). When he came to investigate, he took no chances, and made the fatal shot. The victim, Tyler Giuliano, was a fifteen year-old high school student. It was also the killer’s son. “It’s something out of a Hollywood script” said one top elected official. I disagree. It’s just an ordinary day in America.

[February 9, 2013 Update: It has become clear ever since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting that this article does not accurately depict gun violence in America. Not because anything said in here isn't true, but because the reality is astronomically worse than I reported. In fact, based on the numbers of incidents in this article and the statistics of gun violence in the U.S., this article should actually be called "What Does a Day of Gun Violence Look Like in America?"]

A Week in the “Greatest Country in the World”

Killing Your Child

The killer in the incident described above was just a regular school teacher, and the child had never gotten into trouble. The major question of this case is what on Earth the son was doing with a knife in a black mask. People knew Tyler said that this scenario just “didn’t make sense” to them. Indeed, this case is scary and confusing, yet it’s just the tip of the gun-violence iceberg.

Killing Your Friend

On Tuesday, three soldier friends were watching football on TV together soldier in Texas with a few beers and a lot of laughs. This was until one of the men started hiccuping, and their lives would all be changed forever. One of the soldiers made the decision to scare his friend by bringing a gun to his head, which was supposed to stop the hiccuping. The hiccuping stopped as soon as the man pulled the trigger – thinking that it was full of blanks dummy bullets. Indeed, the trained soldier shot his friend in the face. He’s now in a Texas jail on charges for manslaughter, with bail set for $1 million.

Killing the One Who Called You For Help

On Wednesday, an 83 year-old woman called for the police to report a burglary. The woman, Delma Towler, had never used the gun before that night. She was hoping to scare the burglar off, so she fired a shot out the window. She started walking through her backyard toward her sister’s house, grabbing the gun for protection. The police, who had just pulled up, saw an armed woman leaving the house. They told her to put her weapon down, but she refused.

By the time her body was investigated from the fatal shots by the police officers, it was clear that she had neither her glasses nor her hearing aid. The police statement alleges that she pointer her gun at the police, but her son does not believe it, saying ”Mom ain’t gonna hurt no police officer or nobody else. She was a good Christian woman and she wouldn’t hurt a soul.” Not that being a Christian actually makes any difference, but it’s certainly possible that the police report may not be entirely accurate.

Killing Your Girlfriend

This wasn’t a tragedy in the sense of an accidental death or mistaken identity. It was just a premeditated killing. One man from Orlando, Florida, fatally shot his estranged girlfriend on Wednesday, drove somewhere else and shot another woman (who is expected to live). He had recently been served a domestic violence injunction after trying to run his girlfriend over just a week prior. After a high-speed police chase ensued, the man was seen shooting himself in the head, just before his car slammed into a tree.

Killing Strangers

A sign-making company was shot up for some reason on Thursday in Minneapolis, leaving three critically injured and another who suffered less critical but still significant wounds. The shooter was later found to have killed himself.

In another incident, which took place last Friday, a suspected shoplifter opened fire in a WalMart in South Florida, killing a loss prevention officer. The 22 year-old gunman, Terrell Kennith Johnson, was caught stealing; so he eventually took out his gun at the entrance to the store, causing mayhem as everyone began to flee the store. He eventually left the scene, causing a manhunt that lasted for hours until his body was found. Johnson had also shot himself in the head.

On the Other Hand…

Protecting Yourself and Others

There have also been a few stories this week about people have used guns to protect themselves. For example, a police officer shot and killed a man who he recognized as a suspect in a home invasion that occurred last week, after the suspect pointed a gun at him outside a gas station on Wednesday. Also in self-defence, a Border Patrol agent managed to shoot a woman in San Diego yesterday, after she hit him with her car and would not stop going.

A former firefighter also used the power of the gun to fend off two armed home invaders on Wednesday. He was ambushed when he came home, but he managed to eventually shoot one of the trespassers while they were ransacking the house, causing the other one to flee the scene. His daughter and sister were gathered in the room as well, and he acted quickly when he had the opportunity.

It’s these tales of valour and quick-action that seem to get through to much of the American public, considering so many people protect gun rights as if it’s on the same level as free speech. It’s not. One is the freedom to be able to say something; the other is to own a deadly weapon.

But obviously gun violence isn’t exclusive to America.

Outside America

Yesterday, a police officer accidentally fatally shot his friend, a fellow officer, in Lebanon. He was taking apart a gun in his apartment when he accidentally discharged it.

One gunman killed two police officers in Britain last Tuesday – where law enforcers don’t carry firearms – in what is being called one of the darkest days in the history of British policing. After coming to investigate a robbery, the officers met the men who would later give himself up to police for fatally using a gun and a grenade. Some have opened up the debate about whether the police should start taking after their American counterparts and carry guns, but it looks like this won’t be happening. Why? Because they seem to understand that carrying a gun may only make things worse.

So if it seems like I’m picking on the U.S., it’s not because gun violence doesn’t occur elsewhere. But nowhere else in the democratic world is there so much support for guns.

There Are Economic Burdens Too

One last anecdote from the past week is from Sunday morning, when a female flight attendant in the Philadelphia International Airport was trying to go through security checks; she was detained after a gun was discovered in her handbag. The woman and the gun were detained – though it was later concluded that she had a permit for the firearm – but the officer who had the gun accidentally fired it. Luckily, the gun was aimed at the floor, so no one suffered any injuries. But these kinds of mistakes are some of the contributors to the massive gun fatality rates in America. In fact, incidents like this just demonstrate why even owning a gun has been scientifically shown to bring much more potential for harm than for protection.

Furthermore, the cost to the American people – a people who seem to be obsessed with low taxes – is burdensome. According to a study from 1999, the average medical cost per gun-related injury is around $17,000, with 134,445 such injuries in 1994. This ended with $1.1 billion (49%) paid by U.S. taxpayers. Blogger James Beldock mentions this about the research:

We often talk about gun violence in terms of its emotional cost: the tragedy of a lost loved one, the abject unfairness of a random shooting, the senseless death of a student. Indeed, the emotional costs are real, but they are not the only costs, as a study in the Journal of theAmerican Medical Association makes clear. In the aptly named “Medical Costs of Gunshot Injuries in the United States,” four social scientists contributed the most comprehensive (to my knowledge) analysis of the actual medical costs of gun violence in the United States.

The study was published in 1999, so its absolute data on violence rates will present higher numbers (crime rates have dropped nationwide since their peak in 1994), but with the ever-increasing costs of healthcare, the costs of care in individual cases have risen since this study was performed. (Applying a polynomial interpolation to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Servicesper capita health expenditures have doubled between 1994 — the study year — and 2007.)

The graph below, from the study, shows just another example of why people who own guns are a danger to themselves and others. Look at the “Unintentional” category in particular. That is alarming.

As you can imagine, I am a supporter of gun restrictions, despite the fact that I live in Japan and guns have never been a part of my life. But you’ll have to forgive me for wanting my American brothers and sisters to live lives in safety, and not in fear of random shootings that exemplify the American experience today. It would also be nice to go just one day without news about someone being shot and killed somewhere in the U.S., because this shouldn’t be happening; especially not in the “Greatest country in the world.”

The Bottom Line

So much dramatic gun violence in the span of a mere week and a half? This really does speak volumes. Unfortunately, it’s not loud enough to hear over the ever-reverberating sounds of gunshots.

 

References:

Cook, P. J.,, Lawrence, B. A.,, Ludwig, J.,, & Miller, T. R. (1999). The Medical Costs of Gunshot Injuries in the United States Journal of the American Medical Association, 282 (5), 447-454 DOI: 10.1001/jama.282.5.447

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3 Responses to What Does a Week of Gun Violence Look Like in America?

  1. Six8ten says:

    A quick note about firing “blanks”:

    A blank is essentially a paper bullet. It’s got a load of gunpowder behind it, and at close range can still be very dangerous. Putting a gun loaded with blanks up to someone’s head and firing at point-blank (no pun intended) range would still very likely kill them. There’s also the danger of muzzle blast. I’m a bit surprised a soldier wouldn’t know something about that, if indeed he pulled the trigger thinking the gun was just loaded with blanks.

    • Ryo says:

      Really? I had no idea. The article I got this information did not use the word “blanks,” but they said “dummy rounds” (I put “dummy bullets” in brackets). I’m not sure if there’s any distinction between them. But if that’s true, then I’m also surprised that he didn’t know about that.
      But ya, thanks for the comment. That’s an interesting thing to know. I’m assuming the soldier was a step or two back, aiming the gun, but I’m not sure. Is there a significant difference between point-blank and a foot or two away?

      • six8ten says:

        Ah, dummy rounds are a bit different. A dummy round has the same shape as a bullet, but has no gunpowder, primer, etc, meaning that even if loaded into a gun and the trigger is pulled, nothing would happen (sort of like putting a wooden CD-shaped coaster into a CD player). A blank, as I said before, actually has gunpowder/etc in the shell. With a dummy round, there would be no projectile or muzzle flash. Thinking his gun was loaded with dummy bullets is perhaps somewhat more understandable yet still reckless and dangerous (as shown by the result).

        With a blank, it would depend on the bullet load, but I wouldn’t want to be shot even from a few feet away. I’m no expert on this, but I recall a demonstration of using blank ammo I witnessed many years ago as part of a safety demonstration. Aiming at an empty plastic milk carton, from 20 feet or so away, it was fine. About 10 feet away still put the paper slug through the carton. This was about 25 years ago, so I would recommend looking into it a bit rather than depending on my memory. Regardless, I think a foot or two away would still be considered point blank range. Blanks are generally used in situations where you want the sound of the shot without a long-range projectile. The 21 gun salute comes to mind- they don’t just fire long range projectiles into the air when they do that; a blank load isn’t likely to do any damage should it actually hit anything when it comes back down.

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