America’s Desensitization to Gun Violence

by | May 31, 2022 | Culture, News, Spotlight

Ten people in Buffalo, NY on May 14. Twenty-one people in Uvalde, TX, including nineteen children, on May 24. Most people will recognize the events alluded to here: recent mass shootings in the United States. We know about these two events because they received widespread media attention, but for every mass shooting that gets broadcast widely on news outlets, there are a great many that don’t.

 Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit corporation that keeps track of gun related violence in the United States, defines a mass shooting as any incident where four or more people are shot, not including the shooter. According to their online database, there have been 230 mass shootings in the U.S. since the start of 2022. As of May 31, that’s 1.52 mass shootings per day. Many of these are not reported in outlets beyond local news if they don’t meet outlets’ standards of extravagant tragedy, such as when the number of deaths is limited to one or zero.

We Mainers may think of mass shootings specifically as an “elsewhere” problem, but we have seen an undeniable rise in all gun related fatalities. According to the CDC, Maine had 7.8 gun related deaths for every 100,000 residents in 2005; by 2020 that number had increased to 10.4, an increase of over 28%. And, as mass shootings are an all too common occurrence, we also cannot forget how most gun deaths in the U.S. are the result of suicides. In 2020, 54% of all gun related deaths in the U.S. were from suicides; in our state that number was much higher, sitting at 88% of all Maine gun fatalities in 2019

Mass shootings and gun violence have become so unbelievably common in America that they are no longer news. The lack of media attention is both a symptom and a reinforcement of Americans’ desensitization to rising rates of gun violence. It also allows the gun rights lobby to dodge closer public scrutiny. It’s one thing to defend the “right” to own a modified AR-15 when the national news only splashes a spotlight on a small handful of shootings per year. It would be quite another if the national news reminded Americans every night that another mass shooting had occurred. Or, that since the abhorrent school shooting in Texas on May 24, at least fifteen more mass shootings have taken place in the span of the last week. Or, put in more human terms, that according to CDC data parsed by the BBC almost “53 people are killed each day by a firearm in the US.”

The way our national media cherry picks the small handful of shootings that are broadcast, how that limited coverage potentially affects Americans’ opinions on gun culture, and how the gun lobby is able to use that limited media coverage to their advantage, all intersect to allow our politicians the cover they need to avoid making any meaningful reforms to our nation’s gun laws. Politicians often only act if there is great political pressure to do so. According to Gallup Polling, only 55% of Americans are somewhat or very dissatisfied with the nation’s gun laws; and only 52% wish gun laws were stricter. A small majority wishing some action be taken cannot be considered a mandate for change. And when it comes to reforming gun laws or strengthening gun restrictions, it appears many politicians are not feeling the heat.

While the population is seemingly split on the idea of gun law reform, gun lobby dollars continue to flow into politicians’ pockets. According to the nonprofit Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 29 out of 100 Senators have received more than $100,000 each in donations from the NRA. Forty-eight Senators in total have received contributions from the organization, including our own Sen. Susan Collins who had accepted $19,850 from the NRA as of 2020. It’s no wonder the NRA likes her, she has been a solid ally to the gun lobby throughout her tenure, including a vote to allow loaded guns in National Parks, a vote against limiting magazine capacity, a vote against prohibiting the sale of assault rifles, and more. You can check out her full voting record on gun related issues here

The problem of gun violence in America is much broader and more complex than mass shootings like the two that have been in the news recently, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Yes, tightening gun laws is certainly one necessary avenue, and pushing for that will require a larger concerted campaign by everyday people like us. But the fact that over half of all gun deaths are suicides points to the importance of increasing the spending on and quality of mental health services, making them free for everyone, ridding our culture of the stigmas that come with asking for help, and establishing more access points for people in rural areas. And we don’t stand to make one iota of progress until we stop our pattern of only paying attention to a few events, a couple times a year, for a week or so, until the media cycle moves on to something else.

T. Sinclair has an M.A. in History from the University of Maine. They are a life long Mainer and member of the Pine & Roses Editorial Collective.

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