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Studies Attempt to Explain America's Enduring Gun Violence Problem

A grad student accused of shooting and killing a faculty member at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 28 has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder and possessing a gun on an education property. t’s one of dozens of school shootings this year alone, and comes just after another high-profile shooting in Jacksonville, Florida, where the shooter appeared to first try to target Edward Waters University, a historically Black university, before opening fire at Black victims in a Dollar General store instead. No other high-income country has suffered such a high death toll from gun violence. Every day, 120 Americans die at the end of a gun, including suicides and homicides, an average of 43,375 per year, Vox reports. According to the latest available analysis of data from 2015 to 2019, the US gun homicide rate was 26 times that of other high-income countries; its gun suicide rate was nearly 12 times higher. Mass shootings, defined as attacks in which at least four people are injured or killed excluding the shooter, have been on the rise since 2015, peaking at 686 incidents in 2021. There have been 476 mass shootings in the US in 2023 as of late August, and at the current pace, the US is set to eclipse the 2021 record this year.

It’s hard to estimate the number of privately owned guns in America since there is no countrywide database where people register whether they own guns, there is a thriving black market for them in the absence of strong federal gun trafficking laws, and people can manufacture their own guns with DIY kits or 3D printers. The gun lobby has also vehemently opposed federal legislation to track gun sales and establish a national handgun registry. One estimate from the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research project, found that there were approximately 390 million guns in circulation in the US in 2018, or about 120.5 firearms per 100 residents. That number has likely climbed in the years since, given that one in five households purchased a gun during the pandemic, though the 2018 estimate remains the most recent available. A 2021 study from Hamline University and Metropolitan State University found that the rate of deaths in 133 mass school shootings between 1980 and 2019 was 2.83 times greater in cases where there was an armed guard present. The researchers argue the results suggest the presence of an armed guard increased shooters’ aggression and that because many school shooters have been found to be suicidal, “an armed officer may be an incentive rather than a deterrent.”


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