The U.S. is now top-of-the-heap worldwide when it comes to mass shootings. Under the definition used by the Gun Violence Archive – that four or more people shot and killed in roughly the same place and time equals a “mass shooting” – we’re now experiencing seven such incidents a week.
It’s an everyday event.
Unless, of course, you’re personally in the crosshairs. In which case, it tends to be memorable.
I have only been held at gunpoint twice. The first time, I was pinned in a stairwell by an anxious young man holding a handgun; police had mistakenly identified him as a Black Panther. The second time I was exiting a shower and was menaced by a husband with a rifle. These were one-off, single-target threats, so I’m no expert at mass shootings.
I also recognize the folly of trying to discuss gun control in the current political context. Didn’t the White House just reassure us that last week’s Texas church shooting wasn’t about guns, but rather, “a mental health problem”?
Given that, this might be a good time to share what’s known about mental health problems that predispose people to shoot you. You probably want to avoid those folks.
Of course, it’s hard to avoid them completely. That would entail staying away from elementary schools, universities, post offices, birth-control clinics and churches, not to mention bike paths, theatres, country-music concerts and even Walmart.
Then again, it’s not like the bad guys are hiding under your bed.
Or maybe they are. For women, the statistically most-dangerous group of people would be husbands. In the US, approximately 1,500 women are killed annually by husbands or boyfriends.
Devin Patrick Kelley, who killed 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Spring last week, fits that profile. Before the church shooting, Kelley spent 12 months in a military prison for assaulting his then-wife and stepson. He had also been charged with animal cruelty for beating a dog. (Welfare officials in many states are legally required to report animal cruelty because it so strongly predicts child abuse and domestic violence.)
One might reasonably think that someone with a background like Kelley’s shouldn’t be allowed to buy one gun, let alone four.
Actually, under Texas law, Kelley shouldn’t have been able to buy a gun. But apparently, our gun laws aren’t well enforced.
Thank goodness our elected officials are working hard to make us safer by building walls, conducting extreme vetting and barring entry to visitors from places known for terrorism. Places like Mexico, Syria, Iran, Sudan and Yemen.
I’m concerned we don’t pay enough attention to North Carolina.
I kid you not. The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have cataloged dozens of examples of terrorists from North Carolina. Dylan Roof, who drove from South Carolina to murder nine black people in a church in Shelby, North Carolina, was one of the more infamous.
Robert Lewis Dear, the gunman who killed three people and wounded nine at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, was another. Undocumented and unvetted, Dear was able to sneak across Colorado’s borders with a semi-automatic rifle. When police arrested him, he muttered, “no more baby parts.” Dear wasn’t a churchgoer, but online, he had often spoken of Jesus and the “end times.”
Typical terrorist ideology. Homeland Security, TSA and FEMA have identified characteristics that tend to identify potential domestic terrorists like Dear. Among them: libertarian philosophies; stockpiling food, ammo, hand tools and medical supplies; buying gold; anxiety about the apocalypse and the antichrist; fear of big government, homeschooling, a belief in a New World Order conspiracy and NRA membership.
It’s probably just statistical error that, in cases of domestic violence, having a firearm in the house ups the odds of murder about five-fold. Between 1990 and 2005, more than two-thirds of spouse and ex-spouse homicides were shootings.
Still, America is number one worldwide in firearms per capita, way ahead of Yemen, which is number two. U.S. civilians now own about 270 million guns, enough for every adult to have one, with firearms to spare. (In more than half of American mass shootings, the killer had more than one firearm. That’s not true abroad.)
With just 4.4 percent of the world’s population, America has achieved a stunning 30 percent of the world’s public mass shootings. That makes us number one in mass shootings.
Since we don’t seem to be able to keep firearms out of the hands of people like Devin Kelley and Dylan Roof, and since it’s hard to stay out of all the public places shooters tend to show up, it’s at least good to know how to identify who’s most likely to have you in the crosshairs.
Seeking Higher Ground column
Published in The Sopris Sun on November 16 , 2017