Reasons for high levels of gun violence in the U.S.

Hal Thompson

The Beatles once sang that happiness was a warm gun. And while these lyrics were clearly sarcastic, I think if most Americans were to listen to this song today, they would think no truer words were ever spoken.

In a nation claimed to be the proverbial “City on a Hill” by many of our leaders, death and destruction are endemic. Yet these blights upon our otherwise clean and Christian society seem to stem from one, particular source—guns.

Now, it isn’t news to most of us that guns kill people; what’s striking is America’s place among other nations in regards to its guns. Most notable is the relation to the number of gun-related deaths in America versus anywhere else in the world. According to, America saw nearly 10,000 gun homicides in 2009, which was down from previous years.

This statistic may not appear, but when compared to other first-world countries, the difference is staggering. There are fewer than 1,000 gun homicides in nations such as England, Germany, Japan, etc. To put it in simple math terms: America is killing ten times more people than most other countries. And these aren’t even “the terrorists”; they’re just normal men and women who were more than likely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But with a number nearing 10,000, there must be a reason, a catalyst that begets the amount of violence needed to reach such an alarming statistic. There’s the fact of availability: essentially anyone in America can lawfully acquire a firearm.

However, availability doesn’t denote aggression, nor even motivation—both of which would (logically) be required to come up with a number as large as 10,000.

Directly contrasting this idea, though, is the notion that humans are simply inherently violent creatures with the intelligence to manufacture our violent tendencies on a massive scale.

Our collective history of violence began as territorial disputes solved by banishing or killing the alpha male member of one group. Yet modern violence in relation to gun homicides is hardly comparable to those prehistoric forest skirmishes.

The problem is, while there is no lack of aggression in this model, motivation is still absent. Early humans probably fought each other often, but even during a bad year casualties didn’t reach 10,000.

Guns aren’t scarce outside the U.S., and if you believe we all came from the same group of hairy man-apes, then every country in the world should be displaying this level of aggressive, often unjustified, violence.

The discrepancy still remains, though; even if either or both of the above explanations were true, the number of Americans being murdered by firearms is still incredibly high in comparison to anywhere else.

In his 2002 film Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore uses the Columbine shootings as a starting point for a discussion on gun control and violence in America. For a film made a decade ago, Moore’s concern is still relevant as the recent massacre in Aurora reminded everyone.

After personally investigating supposed reasons for the Columbine shootings (from Marilyn Manson to bowling), Moore argues that the real murderer is 24/7 mass media—a corporate hydra which has systematically killed our trust in each other and the government. Moore seems to suggest, though he never says it explicitly, that gun violence would lessen if Americans weren’t pumped full of fear and anxiety by the media. He points to Canada where the population to gun ownership ratio is higher than the U.S. but the number of gun-related deaths is significantly lower.

The Canadian media doesn’t appear to stress violence in the same way as the U.S., which allows Canadians to maintain a level of comfort with each other few Americans possess (i.e. no one locks their doors in Toronto, Moore discovers).

Could the solution be that easy? If CNN, CBS, FOX and all the others just covered less violence and focused on positive stories, could we be convinced to stop pointing our guns at the neighbors? Yet such a solution carries with it a very un-American consequence: when Moore interviews an executive producer of COPS, he mentions that violence and car chases are what grab viewers’ attention, not compassion, not kindness. In other words, violence in the media means money, and money’s always a good thing in America.

There’s no question that we live in a violent and dangerous world, but how much of that violence stems from ourselves and not others? The nearly 10,000 dead in America from gun homicides represents only a fraction of the worldwide dead in any given year.

But if the self-proclaimed greatest country in the world can look at that number and recognize it only as a sacrifice to free market capitalism based on the constructs of a fear-mongering media and violent nature, then what hope does any other nation have? Maybe I should go out and buy a gun just in case I’m right.