Mass killings in the U.S. happen an average of once every two weeks, according to research published by USA Today. The FBI considers attacks mass killings when at least four people die, and include school shootings, robberies, and much in between. There were 156 attacks killing 774 people between 2006 and 2010.
The survey didn’t contain data for mass murders for 2011 and 2012, years that include the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting or the attack at a Wisconsin Sikh temple, which killed six people.
People’s mental picture of mass murder tends to include a lone gunman blowing away a bunch of strangers. However, this is often not the case. They make up less than half of the perpetrators in mass murders, and a quarter of them are committed by two or more people.
Unfortunately, children are often victims of mass killings, accounting for about one in five deaths in these types of killings.
Mass killings receive a lot of media attention, likely because so many people die at once, and so many more are injured at the same time. However, they accounted for about 1% of people murdered from 2006 to 2010. That’s just mass killings, though. Roughly 85 people are killed every day in the U.S. with a gun. That’s a staggering figure.
American politics historically is reactive when it comes to various safety measures that can better protect people, and children in specific. The current push for better gun control legislation is reminiscent of pushes for more stringent safety codes for buildings, along with a strong push for better labor law (including child labor laws) followed the Triangle Shirtwaist disaster in New York City in 1911, where a fire either directly or indirectly killed 146 people between the ages of 14 and 23.
Those pushes faced heavy opposition from businesses at the time, who insisted they could regulate themselves just fine. Furthermore, advocates for better labor standards, including regulation of child labor, faced constitutional challenges. In fact, it took until the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 to finally achieved some measure of labor regulation, including strict regulation of child labor such as minimum age and maximum hours that a minor can work.
It also took many school fires between 1908 and 1958 for fire prevention to get to the forefront of the public’s mind. Now, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, the killings in Aurora, the shooting in Arizona that killed six and injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the many gun deaths that occur each day, perhaps we should begin talking about prevention as well.
An assault weapons ban is a step, as mass murder is much easier to commit with such weapons, however the time to consider our problems with gun-related deaths a public health issue, and not a policy issue, is at hand. According to Dr. James Gilligan, professor of psychiatry at New York University, as a society we need to focus on environmental issues that lead to violence. He cited the use of preventive measures, such as cleaning up the water supply and instituting basic sanitation, as being far more effective at addressing the rampant epidemics of cholera and other diseases 150 years ago. Today, we have socioeconomic issues that seem to lead to increased violence, and he proposes addressing those, rather than trying to identify everyone that appears predisposed to violence.
White House spokesman Jay Carney has said that President Obama would support legislation that gives people better access to better mental health care, but he has not, as yet, given specifics on what form such legislation should take. He has also said he supports education and addressing cultural issues when it comes to the violence seen in America. While mental illness doesn’t play much of a role in gun violence here, despite what many people believe, better access to mental health care can play a role for people whom Dr. Gilligan says act out in violence because they feel they have nothing left, due to their self-esteem being destroyed in some way.
Thus, finding ways of preventing this kind of thing from happening in the future is the key. Common-sense gun control is a good step, but also addressing violence as a matter of public health in the way that Dr. Gilligan suggests as a preventive measure, might be far more effective in the long run when it comes to stopping this kind of thing in the future.