Editorials, Opinion

Why so many mass shootings if ‘guns don’t kill people’?

At the time of this writing, there have been 164 mass shootings in the first 109 days of 2023. By the time this editorial is published, that number may have changed yet again. 

The last mass shooting to make headlines was March 27 at Covenant Presbyterian School in Nashville, Tenn., in which three 9-year-olds and three adults were killed. That is, until this past Saturday, when news outlets across the country picked up the story of four young people killed and another 32 people injured at a birthday party in Dadeville, Ala., a town of only 3,000 people. 

According to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as a shooting event in which four or more people, not including the shooter, are injured or killed, there were 31 mass shootings between March 27 and April 15, including seven mass shootings on Saturday alone. The GVA recorded two more on Sunday and one more Monday. 

The number of mass shootings has been steadily increasing since 2014, with a particularly dramatic rise starting in 2020 when it jumped from around 400 to over 600 per year, based on numbers compiled by GVA. You know what has also increased since the mid-2010s? Gun sales and gun ownership. 

Multiple researchers have studied this phenomenon over the last several decades. The data is clear: No matter what specific metric you’re looking at — whether it be mass shootings, mass murders or gun-related homicides, suicides or accidents — more guns equal more gun-related violence and deaths. 

No one thinks it can happen to them — to their school, their mall, their workplace, their church, their friends, their family — until it does. And it’s only a matter of time before it happens here. 

Mass shootings have become so common that our young people can be a victim in more than one mass shooting in their lifetime: Several students who survived the Feb. 14 shooting at Michigan State University also survived the November 2021 shooting at Michigan’s Oxford High School. Actress Melissa Joan Hart tweeted that she and her husband helped students fleeing the Covenant school shooting in Nashville; Hart and her family had moved to Tennessee from Connecticut after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, which was close to their home at the time. 

And after each shooting, we keep hearing the same refrain: The gun was legally purchased, the gun was legally owned, the gun was legally obtained … And maybe that’s part of the problem. One study we reviewed found the more permissive a state’s gun laws, the greater its rate of mass shootings. When guns are too accessible and there are too few commonsense regulations in place, we create the perfect storm for a mass casualty event. 

Too many people defend unfettered gun access by saying “guns don’t kill people, people do,” but the simple fact is that mass shootings can’t happen without guns, which means the solution to mass shootings must involve some gun reform. When it comes to gun laws, it doesn’t have to be one extreme or the other: unrestricted access to firearms or no access at all. In fact, most people favor at least some restrictions, such as limits or bans on assault-style weapons, safe storage and red flag laws, training requirements and universal background checks. 

But then the gun zealots start shouting down more moderate voices, and the focus shifts instead to hardening schools with weapons detectors and armed officers and more active shooter drills. At what point will the rest of us stand up to this vocal minority and say enough is enough — no more traumatizing our children with life-or-death simulations and real-life shootings, no more turning institutions of education into prisons, no more living our lives in fear?  

We need nationwide gun reform, and we need it now.