This week we asked forum attendees to visit globalcitizen.org and read an article titled “This Is the Public Health Crisis – and Cost – of Gun Violence in America”. The article outlines the public health costs associated with gun violence. The annual cost of gun violence per year between 2006 and 2014 was estimated at $45 billion. These costs disproportionately affect poor communities and people of colour.
This Week’s Conversation
On November 5, a shooter entered a small church in Sutherland, Texas, and opened fire. 26 people lost their lives and 20 others were wounded. Americans were once again forced to ask themselves why the U.S. has so many mass shootings. Some argued that the US has a mental-health crisis, others claimed that the US is a culturally violent nation. What was once again undeniable, was the fact that the US has a gun problem.
This week’s forum began with two videos. The first video showed President Trump’s response to a reporter’s question concerning gun control. He, as proponents of gun rights often do, claimed that an absence of strict gun control in Texas ensured that citizens were effectively armed and capable of defending themselves, which limited the death toll to 26.
Trump’s video was contrasted with a clip of Trevor Noah pleading with the U.S. to open up discussion about gun control so that focused, constructive debate can take place, and appropriate policy can be developed and implemented.
The dichotomy presented between the two videos highlights the two approaches generally employed in response to mass shootings. Gun rights advocates defend the constitutionally protected right of individuals to own and carry guns. While proponents of gun control plead for tougher gun control laws at the state and federal level. Gun control advocates believe that a robust framework of laws or policies that regulate the manufacture, sale transfer, possession, modification, or use of firearms will curb gun violence and make the US a safer place.
Forum attendees were divided into two groups. One group was tasked with defending gun rights and the other gun control. Before the debate, both groups were assigned the same New York Times article to ensure that the debate would be contextualized within an accurate factual framework.
The article, titled, “What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer”, highlights critical information necessary to a constructive debate about gun rights and gun control.
Some of the most notable facts are listed below:
- The U.S. has 270 million guns, no other country has more than 46 million guns.
- The U.S. has nearly 90 guns per 100 people. Yemen is the only other country above 50 guns per 100 people (Yemen is the only country with more mass shooters per 100 people than the U.S.)
- S. spending on mental health care is on par with mental health care in other wealthy countries.
- Rates of severe mental disorders in the U.S. are on par with those in other wealthy countries.
- S. citizens do not play more violent video games than other citizens in wealthy countries, nor does there appear to be any relationship between rates of violent video playing and violent behaviour.
- The U.S. does not experience more crime than other wealthy countries. American crime appears to simply be more violent.
The only factor that appears to correlate with high rates of gun violence and mass shootings in the U.S. is gun ownership. After reading the New York Times article, both groups were expected to put forth arguments defending their positions.
The gun control advocates highlighted the facts presented in the New York Times article and suggested that the ease with which people in the U.S. can purchase guns and ammunition contributes directly to the prevalence of gun violence. Increased background checks and better enforcement of current background check laws would curb gun ownership and, as the article suggests, gun violence.
The staunch proponents of gun rights pointed to the same set of facts highlighted in the New York Times article to argue that the prevalence of gun ownership in the U.S. provides all the more reason to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns. Because the U.S. has so much gun violence, why would any rational citizen relinquish their right to protect themselves and their family? They argued that limited gun control is essential to their sense of security and freedom.
After the brief debate, both groups dropped their fictional partisan positions and discussed the subject of gun control and rights more openly. Both sides were able to acknowledge how complex the topic of gun control is in the U.S. context. The historical legacy of gun culture in the U.S., widespread gun ownership, and the massive influence of the NRA make it difficult to conceive of the relationship between gun rights and gun control as anything other than dichotomous. Efforts to curb gun violence will necessarily have to confront these powerful cultural elements.
Gun control is a complex issue with arguments rooted in history, culture, and financial interest. It is important to understand that although the statistics may point toward a correlation between gun ownership and gun violence, more nuanced cultural factors must be considered when attempting to change gun control laws.