Illustration by Tanya Bearson
If you’ve been following politics, you’ve seen the recent outcry over mass shootings, and school shootings in particular. Despite its intensity, this outcry is largely unwarranted.
Nearly three million people died last year in the United States (US), and that’s not counting deaths abroad from war or violence. Over 38,000 Americans were killed by guns in 2016. According to an investigation by left leaning magazine Mother Jones, only 117 of those people were killed in mass shootings.
Statistically speaking, school shootings are almost nonexistent. Why then, are they focused on? Not because they are especially tragic — if we cared about tragedy, we’d protest the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, which has killed over nine thousand innocent people and driven hundreds of thousands more from their homes. Not because they are an important public issue — if we cared about that, we’d talk about the opioid crisis, which kills almost as many people in a day as mass shootings do in a year.
The main reason we focus on school shootings so much is that they are viscerally unpleasant. We hate the idea of children being shot. But as terrible as school shootings are, we shouldn’t let our emotions take priority over the facts. The facts show that mass shootings almost never occur.
Why is this misdirection of our attention an issue? If we focus on a small portion of the whole problem, we’ll get a small portion of the solution we need. Even if President Trump’s proposal to arm teachers completely eliminated school shootings, that would only be a drop in the bucket relative to all gun deaths.
None of this is to say that gun violence isn’t a problem. Gun violence is an epidemic in our country, and we have to at least think about reforms. But the focus on mass shootings specifically is unnecessary. About two thirds of gun deaths are homicides, and the remaining third are almost all suicides. Mass shootings only account for a tiny fragment of total gun deaths.
Of course, mass shootings are horrific. It is tragic and terrible whenever innocent people die. But mass shootings aren’t the only way innocent people die. They die in genocides and wars around the world. They die from the massive opioid crisis our country faces. They die from gun homicides and gun suicides. It’s the sad truth that we can’t solve every problem. If we have to choose, we should try and solve the big ones.