America has too many guns to avoid outsize gun violence, research suggests

·2 min read

Gun violence is in the news again after back-to-back mass shootings in which two gunmen murdered 18 people in Boulder, Colorado, and around Atlanta. The two killing sprees broke a roughly one-year period with no high-profile mass shootings, but Americans were still dying of gunshots during the pandemic, and "at a record rate," Reis Thebault and Danielle Rindler report at The Washington Post. "In 2020, gun violence killed nearly 20,000 Americans" and injured about 40,000 more, and "an additional 24,000 people died by suicide with a gun."

The reason the U.S. has so much gun violence — and so much more than any comparable country — is pretty obvious, and maddeningly intractable: Americans own about 45 percent of the world's civilian firearms. And they bought another 23 million in 2020, a 64 percent increase over 2019 sales.

The U.S. "could reduce the death toll, perhaps substantially, if it chose to," David Leonhardt writes at The New York Times. "It's not just that every other high-income country in the world has many fewer guns and many fewer gun deaths. It's also that U.S. states with fewer guns — like California, Illinois, Iowa, and much of the Northeast — have fewer gun deaths. And when state or local governments have restricted gun access, deaths have often declined," according to research by Boston University's Michael Siegel.

"The U.S. has average levels of non-lethal violence compared with our peer nations," too, Daniel Webster at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy tells Politico. "What sets us apart is that our violence is far more lethal because it more commonly involves someone with a firearm."

"There is overwhelming evidence that this country has a unique problem with gun violence, mostly because it has unique gun availability," Leonhardt adds. "Many of the policies that experts say would reduce gun deaths — like requiring gun licenses and background checks — would likely affect both mass shootings and the larger problem," he adds, but Republicans will safely filibuster any bill to enact such changes, suggesting that on a deeper level, "this country's level of gun violence is as high as it is because many Americans have decided that they are okay with it."

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