Society prospers when individuals and communities are free from terrorism, violent crime, and property crime. It is with great sadness that this article is written within a few days of three mass shootings in California, with the loss of 19 lives and 17 injuries. Since the beginning of 2023, there has now been 70 deaths and 167 injuries due to mass shootings.
In the Safety and Security pillar, the American Dream Prosperity Index (ADPI) measures the presence (or absence) of such activities since individuals’ lives, their freedoms and the security of their property are at risk where these activities are present, both through their current prevalence and their long-lasting effects.
The 2022 Index reveals that, overall, Safety and Security has not changed dramatically across the U.S. over the last decade. Since 2016, it has almost stagnated. However, the picture is more nuanced when considering the different aspects of crime.
As illustrated in the chart, while there has been a notable improvement in the Property Crime element, due to national rates of burglary and larceny falling by 55% and 30% respectively over the past decade, the rise of mass shootings, especially since 2014, has led to a deterioration in the Mass Killings and Injuries element. Hawaii and North Dakota are the only two states that have not experienced mass shootings since 2014. Such events have not only become more frequent, but also more widespread. Analyzing data from the Gun Violence Archive, the percentage of counties within the Index experiencing a death or an injury from a mass shooting event has nearly doubled between 2014 and 2021, increasing from 10% to 19%.
One potential contributing factor to the rise in these types of events is the increase in the availability of guns.
As illustrated by the chart, 2020 and 2021 saw significantly higher sales than in the previous years, with an estimated 40 million guns being purchased and readily available. This has led to a high rate of gun ownership in the U.S., with an estimated 120.5 guns per 100 people, the highest rate of any country in the world, according to the 2020 Small Arms Survey (the second country on the list, Yemen, has less than half with 52.8).
The issue of gun violence is complex and multifaceted and is not just a factor of easy access. Mental health issues, isolation, loneliness, unemployment, and social and cultural issues, all have a role in these events playing out.
According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, individuals with mental health disorders are more likely to be involved in violent crimes, including those involving firearms, highlighting the point that different components of prosperity are deeply intertwined with each other - the ADPI contains 49 specific policy elements enabling a rich analysis of the interconnections. For this reason, solving these kinds of issues requires expertise and understanding of multiple domains and looking at topics from different angles.
As well as the immediate impact on those directly involved and their family and friends, mass shooting events also have a broader ripple effect on society. For example, associated fear levels among parents and their children have been rising in recent years: 44% of parents with a child in kindergarten through 12th grade say they fear for their oldest child’s personal safety at school, representing a 21-year high. Other factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, may contribute to this increase.
It is estimated that gun violence has a dramatic impact on the economy as well. Miller and others have calculated that this is resulting in $557 billion in costs (medical, work loss, police, and so on). This corresponds to 2.6% of the U.S. GDP and is five times the nation’s budget for the Department of Education.
The year on year rise of deaths and injuries due to mass shootings has a detrimental effect on society and represents a shared challenge that needs a common ground solution. Several policies have been implemented or proposed, such as background checks, waiting periods, banning specific weapons, and many more. While it is hard to assess how efficient each of these measures would be, there is scientific evidence showing that child-access prevention laws reduce firearm homicides or firearm assault injuries among young people.
Individual liberties play an important role in the debate, as the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms. Opponents of greater gun control also note that the gun industry contributes to the U.S. economy: the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that the firearms and ammunition industry generated as much as $70 billion across the country in 2021.
Fully understanding these and other related issues will be required in seeking solutions to reduce the rise in mass shootings. Effective solutions can only be realized through discussion and collaboration across all spheres of society, to ensure that individual Constitutional freedoms are respected, but also that public safety is promoted. Creating a pathway to true prosperity is possible but can only be done collaboratively.
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