Mass shootings are not confined to America


Thousands of protesters take part in a rally to call for the resignation of top officials and curtailing violence in the media, a month after two back-to-back shootings that killed 18 people, in Belgrade. Agence France-Presse

US mass shootings are infectious. Last month Serbia suffered two mass shootings. The first took place on May 5th when a 13-year-old boy killed nine at a Belgrade school, in the country’s worst shooting in years. The second followed early on the 7th, in a village 60 kilometres south of Belgrade when a drive-by shooter, 21, killed eight and wounded 14 after an argument with a police officer in a park.

Mass shootings are rare in Serbia. Although the country has strict gun laws, the western Balkans are flooded with illegal guns following the wars of the 1990s. In 2019, it was estimated that there were nearly 40 guns per 100 Serbs. This is the third highest rate of gun ownership after the US and Montenegro.

On May 26th, in rural Japan the son of a politician killed four by stabbing two women and shooting two policemen with a hunting rifle. Japan, which has tough gun laws, rarely suffers violent crime.


Awash with both hunting guns and war weapons, the US has seen more than 200 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines an incident where there are four or more people killed or injured. Mass shootings are on the rise. In 2020 there were 610 mass shootings, in 2021 690, and in 2022, 647. In the majority of these incidents, fewer than 10 are killed. Mass shootings account for a fraction of firearm deaths. In 2021, there were 48,830 firearm deaths: 26,328 suicides, 20,959 homicides. Shootings accounted for 80.5 per cent of homicides as compared with 4 per cent in England and Wales, 11 per cent in Australia, and 40 per cent in Canada. It seems to be suffering to a lesser extent from the same disease as the US where the US ratio of firearms is 120.5 for every 100 people. A 2022 survey showed that 57 per cent of US respondents wanted stricter gun controls, 32 per cent the status quo and 10 per cent less strict. Ninety-one per cent of Democrats favour strict controls; 24 per cent of Republicans and 45 per cent of independents agreed with this stand. Since the federal government has failed to act, policies are imposed by individual states. Three regulate and 10 ban assault weapons, while 37 do neither.

The Gun Violence Archive was founded in 2014 by Kentucky gun-owner and retired computer systems architect, Mark Bryant, 67, and funded by octogenarian real estate mogul Mike Klein. Launched by Bryant and four other people on a shoestring, the archive now has 40 independent researchers working from home and an annual budget of $750,000. The researchers collect daily data on all shootings, the number of deaths and injuries, causes, unintentional, intentional, or defensive, where and when the shootings took place and ages and identities of shooters and victims.

Bryant dismisses the arguments given for gun ownership. Owners contend the more guns the less crime and ownership is the “price of freedom.” He takes the view that the more guns there are in circulation, the more shootings he has to count. “It really boils down to simple maths. More people have more guns, each capable of carrying 30-, 60-round magazines. It’s really boiling down to maths, more people more guns, more anger.”

He recognises that there is an ideological divide which obstructs efforts to curb gun violence. In a recent interview, he said gun owners have founded a “cult.” They claim the Second Amendment to the US Constitution confers on them the right to own weapons of their choice.

This amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Although the language is archaic, it is clear from this amendment that the right to “keep and bear Arms” is conferred on members of a “well regulated militia” engaged in providing national, state and local security NOT on members of the general public. Mistrust of regular armies was the main reason this amendment was adopted in September 1789. Since then, US states have formed “national guard” units and the federal government has raised conscripted and professional armed forces rendering citizens’ militias obsolete.

The most common reason given for gun ownership is protection from intruders and violent people in city streets or countryside. Some owners contend they want weapons to defend themselves against the government and say they are prepared to use force if the authorities attempt to confiscate their weapons.

Many owners use their weaponry for recreational shooting. However, psychologists argue guns provide identities to uncertain people who may suffer from low esteem. Many feel vulnerable and insecure unless they are armed. Others are driven by anger or toxic masculinity and when challenged can make use of their guns, especially as they are allowed to carry weapons. Guns also are fashionable social and cultural accessories. Having the latest and most deadly guns gives owners a boost and gives them a social advantage over others. Gun ownership is most popular with people with right-wing political views and essential for men and women who seek to do harm to others. Gun manufacturers and the gun lobby — the National Rifle Association — do their utmost to promote sales and use while US politicians depend on them for campaign contributions and votes.

A grassroots organisation formed after the December 2012 school massacre of 20 children and six adults, the Connecticut Newtown Action Alliance has summed up the situation as follows: “We are a troubled society. No other nation on earth has the kind and amount of gun violence citizens of the US accept unless it is involved in a civil war. The question therefore must be raised as to whether or not we are in fact involved in just such an undeclared civil strife. It may be so. We are certainly at some kind of war with ourselves.”

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