America’s Mass Shooting Epidemic Is the Result of Republican Minority Rule
Over this past weekend, America experienced yet another double-header mass shooting , with a total of 29 dead and 53 injured.
No other developed country has anywhere near this level of both gun violence and mass shootings. A 2016 study, “Mass Shootings: Media, Myths, and Realities,” found that between 2000 and 2014, the United States had 133 mass shootings, while Finland had just two (killing 18 people in total) and Switzerland had one mass shooting (killing 14 in total). In 2019, America has had more mass shootings than days. In The Atlantic , David Frum, like so many other commentators, called it “a uniquely American determination to ignore the obvious,” pointing out that nations like Italy are home to white supremacists and even fascistic leaders, but not mass shootings. “More guns, more killing. Fewer guns, less killing,” he wrote in conclusion. “Everybody else has figured that out. Americans—and only Americans—refuse to do so.”
That’s not quite right, however. For all the talk of America’s obsession with guns and propensity for violence, only 30 percent of Americans actually own them, according to Pew Research . A solid majority—57 percent of Americans—support stricter gun laws, with 80 percent of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents versus 28 percent of Republicans. Blue states, like California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Hawaii, and New York, have passed stricter gun-control laws —and even though it’s relatively easy to purchase firearms and bring them across state lines, those states have lower rates of gun violence than those with lax standards, according to the Giffords Law Center. On the federal level, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed two bipartisan gun-control bills earlier this year: H.R. 8 (a bill prohibiting person-to-person firearms transfer unless a background check can be performed) and H.R. 1112 (a bill extending the time firearms dealers have to wait for a response on background checks to 10 days).
That legislation has been held up in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has not brought them to the floor for a vote. It is not merely a problem of obstructionism at the federal level either. Nine of the ten states with the highest gun-death rates—Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and West Virginia—have both Republican-controlled state legislatures and weak gun laws. So it is not, as Frum asserts, that “Americans express befuddlement, and compete to devise ever more far-fetched answers.” It is largely a Republican determination to do so.
In the wake of the latest mass shootings, Republicans rallied around anything-but-gun-control talking points. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California blamed video games in a Sunday morning appearance on Fox News. "The idea that these video games that dehumanize individuals to have a game of shooting individuals ," McCarthy said. "I've always felt that it's a problem for future generations and others.” Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick also pointed at video games, as well as a lack of prayer in schools and saluting the flag, in an appearance on Fox & Friends .
Republican Texas senator John Cornyn—who supported the 1996 Dickey amendment on a spending bill which banned federal funding for the Centers for Disease Control to study gun violence— tweeted that “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong,” gesturing toward a “broken background check system, improving access to mental health treatment, by hardening soft targets like our schools, by enhanced training for law enforcement and mental health professionals.” Texas governor Greg Abbott—who once tweeted that he was “embarrassed” that Texas was second to California in gun purchases, urging Texans to “pick up the pace”—also deflected to mental illness: “the need for the state and for society to do a better job of dealing with challenging mental health based issues." As did President Donald Trump, who claimed to reporters that this was “a mental illness problem.”
None of these theories are backed by evidence or even some kind of good-faith reasoning. Every other industrialized country has mental illness, video games, and “soft target” schools, as well as minimal school prayers and flag saluting, without our mass-shooting epidemic. In Japan, where video gaming is widely popular and gun laws are strict , there have been no mass shootings in the past year—never mind hundreds of them in eight months. Researchers have found no link between mass shootings and violent video games. Ditto mental illness . In a study for the National Institutes of Health, professors of psychiatry Paul Applebaum, of Columbia, and Jeffrey Swanson, of Duke, found that only “3 percent—5 percent of violent acts are attributable to serious mental illness, and most do not involve guns.” And another psychiatrist at Columbia, Michael Stone, found that about 65 percent of mass murderers exhibited no mental disorder, and a 2016 analysis by the Department of Justice found a similar rate, about 20 percent, of psychotic disorders among mass killers.
“In my large file of mass murders, if you look decade by decade, the numbers of victims are fairly small up until the 1960s,” Dr. Stone told The New York Times . “That’s when the deaths start going way up. When the AK-47s and the Kalashnikovs and the Uzis—all these semiautomatic weapons, when they became so easily accessible.”
Americans aren’t willfully blind to the fact that the availability of guns is a component of the country’s gun-violence problem. According to a 2017 Gallup poll , while only 48 percent backed a full ban on assault weapons, 96 percent of Americans support background checks for all gun purchases, 75 percent back a 30-day waiting period for all gun purchases, and 70 percent favor requiring all guns to be registered with the police—measures that go beyond today’s federal gun regulations. The Rupert Murdoch–owned New York Post, hardly a liberal rag, published a cover editorial on Monday morning, calling for a “Ban on Weapons of War.”
In recent days, while 50 Republican lawmakers turned down invitations to appear on CNN to talk about the mass shootings, Democrat senators, including Connecticut’s Chris Murphy and California’s Kamala Harris , called for more gun regulation, with presidential candidates Cory Booker of New Jersey and Bernie Sanders of Vermont calling on McConnell to bring the Senate back from recess to enact emergency legislation. Former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder tweeted : “Enough-time for real action. Pass a domestic terrorism bill. Ban assault weapons, high capacity magazines, body armor, silencers. Pass universal background checks, end loopholes: gunshow and Charleston. Pass red flag laws. We can reduce the carnage if pols have the guts to act.”
Many pols have those guts, but they are outweighed by a Senate makeup tilted toward less populous states, gerrymandering and voter suppression rampant on the state level, and a judiciary reshaped with far-right appointments, thanks to McConnell’s obstructionism . In 2018, Democratic Senate candidates collectively won 18 million more votes than their Republican counterparts, yet still lost seats, with the Senate balance maintained by the Republicans 53-47. To the extent that mass shootings are a uniquely American epidemic, it is because the American electoral system is uniquely rigged for the modern GOP—the “Great Compromise” that allotted the same number of Senate seats for both large and small states has metastasized the issue to deadly effect. Without a representative body that reflects the will of the people, it is unlikely that the carnage will stop anytime soon.