Are you familiar with the story of Wyatt Earp and the movie version? Probably so. It’s the most iconic shootout in the history of the American West. But in reality, that pistol fight at the O.K. Corral in October 1881 lasted 30 seconds and claimed only three lives. Many might say that such a shooting today wouldn’t even make the headlines.
This background provides perspective on the American weapons debate. Even one who likes tales of the Wild West must admit that mass shootings of the current sort (this time in Florida, last time in Las Vegas) constitute a league of its own – indeed, another universe. The story of the O.K. Corral was about a sheriff, the enforcement of justice, a contest between good and evil. Now we have the case of venting frustrations with weapons that fire hundreds of rounds per minute, leaving dozens dead. It seems that it’s wearing thin even on a wide range of gun rights (Second Amendment) fans, including President Donald Trump, to the point where he tasked the attorney general with drawing up a ban on devices that accelerate firing and turn a legally owned rifle into a de facto automatic weapon.
Is this just the beginning? Hard to say. Mass shootings in the U.S. happen over and over without leading to regulation. Nor has the correlation reported on The New York Times website changed. Americans make up 4.4 percent of the earth’s inhabitants, but they own 42 percent of firearms. Among larger countries, only one demonstrates a higher proportion of shootings: Yemen. In New York, you have the same chance of being assaulted and robbed as in London. But in New York, it is 54 times more probable that you will be killed in that assault. That’s not ideology. These are correlations, calculated relationships among measurable quantities. If we’re looking for ideology, we’re more likely to find it among those who say these correlations are mere coincidence.
In August 2016, Spiegel Online summarized the words of the German chancellor thus: “Angela Merkel denied any link between the growing risk of terror and the influx of refugees.” But even back then, it was apparent this was wishful thinking. The same is true of the U.S. Is it a coincidence that the widespread availability of weapons in the U.S. correlates with the high numbers of people killed? It’s those who deny the connection who rank among the ideologues.