When the world looks at the United States,it sees a land of exceptions: a time-tested if noisy democracy, a crusader inforeign policy, an exporter of beloved music and film.
But there is one quirk that consistentlypuzzles America’s fans and critics alike. Why, they ask, does it experience somany mass shootings?
Perhaps, some speculate, it is becauseAmerican society is unusually violent. Or its racial divisions have frayed thebonds of society. Or its citizens lack proper mental care under a health caresystem that draws frequent derision abroad.
These explanations share one thing incommon: Though seemingly sensible, all have been debunked by research onshootings elsewhere in the world. Instead, an ever-growing body of researchconsistently reaches the same conclusion.
The only variable that can explain the highrate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.
The top-line numbers suggest a correlationthat, on further investigation, grows only clearer.
Americans make up about 4.4 percent of theglobal population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.
美国人口占全球总人口约4.4%，却拥有全世界42%的枪支。阿拉巴马大学(University of Alabama)教授亚当·兰克福德(Adam Lankford)在2015年的研究发现，从1996年到2013年，全世界大规模枪击案凶手有31%是美国人。
Adjusted for population, only Yemen has ahigher rate of mass shootings among countries with more than 10 million people— a distinction Lankford urged to avoid outliers. Yemen has the world’ssecond-highest rate of gun ownership after the United States.
Worldwide, Lankford found, a country’s rateof gun ownership correlated with the odds it would experience a mass shooting.This relationship held even when he excluded the United States, indicating thatit could not be explained by some other factor particular to his home country.And it held when he controlled for homicide rates, suggesting that massshootings were better explained by a society’s access to guns than by itsbaseline level of violence.
If mental health made the difference, thendata would show that Americans have more mental health problems than do peoplein other countries with fewer mass shootings. But the mental health carespending rate in the United States, the number of mental health professionalsper capita and the rate of severe mental disorders are all in line with thoseof other wealthy countries.
A 2015 study estimated that only 4 percentof U.S. gun deaths could be attributed to mental health issues. And Lankford,in an email, said countries with high suicide rates tended to have low rates ofmass shootings — the opposite of what you would expect if mental healthproblems correlated with mass shootings.
America’s gun homicide rate was 33 permillion people in 2009, far exceeding the average among developed countries. InCanada and Britain, it was 5 per million and 0.7 per million, respectively,which also corresponds with differences in gun ownership.
Americans sometimes see this as anexpression of deeper problems with crime, a notion ingrained, in part, by aseries of films portraying urban gang violence in the early 1990s. But theUnited States is not actually more prone to crime than other developedcountries, according to a landmark 1999 study by Franklin E. Zimring and GordonHawkins of the University of California, Berkeley.
美国人有时候会将这个问题视作犯罪方面深层问题的显露。这个观点根深蒂固，部分原因在于一系列刻画90年代城市帮派暴力的电影。但加州大学伯克利分校(University ofCalifornia, Berkeley)的弗兰克林·E·齐姆林(Franklin E. Zimring)和戈登·霍金斯(Gordon Hawkins)在1999年的一项里程碑式研究表明，美国的犯罪问题并不比其他发达国家更严重。
Rather, they found, in data that has sincebeen repeatedly confirmed, that U.S. crime is simply more lethal. A New Yorkeris just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner, for instance, but the New Yorkeris 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.
They concluded that the discrepancy, likeso many other anomalies of U.S. violence, came down to guns.
Skeptics of gun control sometimes point toa 2016 study. From 2000 and 2014, it found, the U.S. death rate by mass shootingwas 1.5 per one million people. The rate was 1.7 in Switzerland and 3.4 inFinland, suggesting U.S. mass shootings were not actually so common.
But the same study found that the UnitedStates had 133 mass shootings. Finland had only two, which killed 18 people,and Switzerland had one, which killed 14. In short, isolated incidents. Sowhile mass shootings can happen anywhere, they are only a matter of routine inthe United States.
As with any crime, the underlying risk isimpossible to fully erase. Any individual can snap or become entranced by aviolent ideology. What is different is the likelihood that this will lead tomass murder.
In China, about a dozen seemingly randomattacks on schoolchildren killed 25 people between 2010 and 2012. Most usedknives; none used a gun.
By contrast, in this same window, theUnited States experienced five of its deadliest mass shootings, which killed 78people. Scaled by population, the American attacks were 12 times as deadly.
In 2013, U.S. gun-related deaths included21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides and 505 deaths caused by an accidentaldischarge. That same year in Japan, a country with one-third America’spopulation, guns were involved in only 13 deaths.
This means an American is about 300 timesmore likely to die by gun homicide or accident than a Japanese person.America’s gun ownership rate is 150 times as high as Japan’s. That gap between150 and 300 shows that gun ownership statistics alone do not explain what makesAmerica different.
The United States also has some of theworld’s weakest controls over who may buy a gun and what sorts of guns may beowned.
Switzerland has the second-highest gunownership rate of any developed country, about half that of the United States.Its gun homicide rate in 2004 was 7.7 per million people — unusually high, inkeeping with the relationship between gun ownership and murders, but still afraction of the rate in the United States.
Swiss gun laws are more stringent, settinga higher bar for securing and keeping a license, for selling guns and for thetypes of guns that can be owned. Such laws reflect more than just tighterrestrictions. They imply a different way of thinking about guns, as somethingthat citizens must affirmatively earn the right to own.
The United States is one of only threecountries, along with Mexico and Guatemala, that begin with the oppositeassumption: that people have an inherent right to own guns.
The main reason U.S. regulation of gun ownershipis so weak may be the fact that the trade-offs are simply given a differentweight in the United States than they are anywhere else.
After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987,the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996incident. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus anddetermined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society.
That choice, more than any statistic orregulation, is what most sets the United States apart.
“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end ofthe US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a poston Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 youngstudents at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killingchildren was bearable, it was over.”