According to the Gun Violence Archive, 40,726 people died by firearms in the United States in 2021. Since 2014, 36,000 people have died from guns each year. Every 10 years, the equivalent of the city of Laval’s population dies in our neighbor to the south. This year, the murder rate has reached levels unseen since the 1990s.
Research confirms that endemic violence in American society is now directly linked to the prevalence of guns. Moreover, Sripal Bangalore and Franz H. Messerli have reported in The American Journal of Medicine that the rate of firearm possession is a good way to predict the rate of deaths linked to firearms. Furthermore, as the criminologist Franklin Zimring explains, such availability makes crimes more lethal than elsewhere in the Western world.
According to Garen J. Wintemute (in the Injury Epidemiology journal, 2021), this is all the more concerning since background checks on those purchasing guns between January 2020 and September 2021 exceeded expectations by 60%. It is all the more so, he adds, because these numbers underestimate sales as they do not take into account for multiple sales during a single transaction or private sales between individuals. The Small Arms Survey’s latest estimate of the number of firearms circulating in the United States dates from 2018. At the time, it estimated the number of firearms circulating among the civilian population in the United States to be 393.3 million – 120.5 guns per 100 people. The Pew Research Center estimates that in 2021, 4 out of 10 adults live in a household with a firearm, and one-third of Americans own a gun. We have to put this in context; Francis Langlois, professor and associate member of the Observatoire sur les Etats-Unis, and Chaire Raoul-Dandurand talk about how possession and use of firearms in the United States has changed profoundly since the 1980s. Gun ownership is not linked to sport or hunting, but guns have become a true object of identity and a way of affirming one’s individuality.
What’s more, this recent period stands out for more than one reason. Angela Stroud, professor of sociology at Northland College, highlights three notable increases in the last five years: an increase in the number of persons killed or injured by a firearm; an increase in the number of mass shootings and an increase in the number of rallies with heavily armed citizens, a majority of whom are white men. She explains how this increasingly violent society comes to legitimize, in a sophisticated way, the use and carrying of guns.
At this point, the increasing number of guns in cities, especially in their surrounding areas and schools, is a substantial problem that state and local institutions handle very differently. On one hand, for example, Newburgh School District in New York is offering the option of online teaching following a series of incidents linked to gun violence. On the other hand, the Ohio House of Representatives just passed a law (HB99 now heading to the state Senate that would allow teachers (with minimal training) to carry guns in the classroom, a measure that is being presented as a win for rural schools that do not have the means to hire security guards, while opponents believe that the measure heightens the risk of gun violence. As the U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to loosen gun regulations in the case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, the stakes are real. All the more so because the patchwork of laws creates a domino effect, where crossing the line from one state to the other allows people leeway around restrictive measures.
This problem, which is plaguing the United States domestically (The Washington Post calls it the other pandemic), is also contagious beyond the country’s borders.
In fact, for several decades, Mexico has been at the forefront of gun violence. According to a report from the Secretaria de Relaciones Exteriores of the Mexican government dated last December, almost 3 million firearms were illegally imported from the United States. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 70% of guns linked to crime scenes in Mexico come from the United States. Incidentally, a Washington Post survey has linked the .50-caliber weapons used by the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan to recent use by Mexican cartels against police helicopters, police stations, sometimes just a few days after they have been acquired from Texas or Arizona. These weapons then make their way to Central America over drug trafficking routes in reverse, where they feed into violence and send millions of migrants on the road in a never-ending spiral. Similarly, over the last five years, the ATF has, at Ottawa’s request, identified the origin of weapons used in Canada. Among those weapons, 20,806 come from the United States.
On the one hand, there is no federal law in the United States that sanctions the trafficking of weapons in the country. On the other hand, the forgotten actor in this equation is the gun industry, according to the Center for American Progress. Concentrated in the hands of a few companies, the gun industry’s liability is minimal, so much so that the ATF, the agency charged with overseeing it has limited power and the previous administration helped weaken regulations on exporting light weapons, according to the Arms Control Association. Even if American influence is not the only reason for the current situation in Quebec, that influence is not negligible.
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