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With 400 Million Guns, Death Total a 'Uniquely American Phenomenon'

The spate of shooting attacks in Highland Park, Il.; Uvalde, Tx.; and Buffalo has riveted attention on the staggering number of public mass killings.

The rising number of gun deaths extends beyond such high-profile episodes, emerging daily inside homes, outside bars and on the streets of many cities.

Firearm purchases rose to record levels in 2020 and 2021, with more than 43 million guns purchased during that period. At the same time, the rate of gun deaths in those years hit the highest level since 1995, with more than 45,000 fatalities each year, reports the Washington Post.

Guns are used in most suicides and are almost entirely responsible for an overall rise in homicides across the country from 2018 to 2021.

Over the long Fourth of July weekend, when seven people were killed and dozens wounded at a parade in Highland Park, other fatal shootings played out across the U.S.

In nearby Chicago, 10 people were killed and more than 60 wounded in shootings over the same weekend. One person was killed and four were wounded in a shooting outside a Sacramento nightclub. Two people were shot to death at a home in Haltom City, Tx., and a neighbor and three police officers were injured. A man was fatally shot in Clinton, N.C.; hours later, six people, including two children, were injured in a separate shooting there.

There is not one clear answer as to what is driving the rise in bloodshed, but possible factors include the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, fraying ties between the police and the public, mounting anger, worsening mental strain and the sheer number of guns.

“You put all that into a pressure cooker,” said criminologist Alex Piquero of the University of Miami, “and you let the pressure cooker blow up.”

With an estimated 400 million guns in the U.S., a figure that eclipses the U.S. population, “there is a self-fulfilling prophecy of, ‘I need a gun because everyone else around me has a gun,’” said Sasha Cotton, director of the Minneapolis Office of Violence Prevention.

The agonizing frequency of nonfatal shootings and firearm deaths has become a uniquely American phenomenon.

Many other countries have disadvantaged folks who are angry and alienated,” said Richard Berk, professor emeritus of criminology and statistics at the University of Pennsylvania. “But guns aren’t there.”

Data show gun deaths surged almost everywhere in America in 2020, “a very broad phenomenon” and one that “was almost as intense outside of metro areas as it was inside of metropolitan areas,” said Philip Cook, a Duke University professor emeritus of public policy and economics.


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