November 12, 2018
IntelBrief: National Security in a Nation of Mass Shootings
On November 07, there was another mass shooting in the United States. A man identified as Ian David Long, a former Marine, murdered 11 people inside a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. This is the fourth such shooting in which ten or more people were murdered in a single incident in 2018. The rate of these mass killings is increasing while the overall level of violent crime in the United States, despite occasional fear-mongering by politicians, remains at or near historic lows. The one constant with these regularly occurring tragedies is the use of high-capacity or high-powered firearms—in this, the U.S. stands alone among countries with high socio-economic levels. As noted in a recent article by NPR, the University of Washington releases an annual study on how the rate of gun deaths in the U.S. compares to other countries (not just Western democracies). The annual comparison finds the U.S. experiencing a rate of gun violence and death that is beyond anything experienced by most developed countries.
The Thousand Oaks shooting comes on the heels of several other high-profile incidents of mass murder this year. On February 14, 2018, a gunman murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland; On May 18, 2018, a gunman murdered 10 people at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas; On October 27, 2018, a gunman killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. All the shooters in these listed attacks were male, which is the case in almost every such shooting. The motives differ—violent anti-Semitism was the motive in Pittsburgh while in recent school shootings, the motives appear personal or simply delusional. On October 1, 2017, a single gunman murdered 58 people before killing himself in Las Vegas as he shot into a crowded music festival from a high-rise hotel room; police have still not uncovered any information regarding that attacker’s motives, and the case was made even more bizarre by a false claim of responsibility by the so-called Islamic State.
In 2017, as in all previous years, the U.S. ranked among the highest of any country in terms of gun deaths, with a rate of 4.43 deaths per every 100,000 persons in 2017—the 28th highest rate of gun deaths worldwide, and by far the highest such rate among countries with leading socio-economic indicators. The countries ranked ‘higher’ than the U.S. in terms of gun deaths are, primarily, clustered in Central America, where drug cartels and endemic corruption have fueled truly horrific rates: El Salvador has a rate of 43.11 deaths by guns per 100,000 people, while the failed state of Venezuela has a rate of 42.15 per 100,000. Countries that battle persistent poverty and instability, such as Bangladesh, and large parts of China do not have high rates of gun deaths per capita. Rather, both countries are among the lowest rates of gun deaths, with rates of 0.04 and 0.07 respectively. To put these numbers into perspective, the U.S. has a higher rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people than Afghanistan and Iraq—both active war zones.
When the U.S. is viewed solely according to socio-economic factors, the University of Washington program found that the expected rate of gun deaths per 100,000 should be 0.46. All countries have issues with misogyny, racism, mental illness, trauma, and political violence, yet the U.S. stands alone among Western and even most other countries when it comes to its alarming-yet-tolerated rate of gun deaths for its citizens. In terms of true national security, the issue of gun violence and death in the U.S. is by far the most pressing issue plaguing the citizenry, yet continuously unaddressed by the government. The costs of such gun violence, in terms of family and community loss, dwarf any recent military operations or terrorist attacks, yet these shootings are almost always met with a collective shrug from U.S. politicians. Terrorist attacks, especially those conducted by an individual or group motivated by Islamist ideologies, always provokes a much more forceful response and calls for increased funding for counter-terrorism and greater vigilance on the home front.
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