The Gun Control Debate Needs To Stop Focusing Entirely On Mass Shootings

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Photo: (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The unspeakable tragedy at a Connecticut elementary school last month has inspired renewed calls for gun control in the United States.It’s hard to ignore the slaughter of 20 first-graders and six teachers, especially since they died months after a mass murder at a Colorado movie theatre.

At a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, ticked off several recent mass murders, noting that “America abhors the recent tragedies.”

In response to these tragedies, President Obama has called on Congress to reinstate the expired ban on assault weapons frequently used by mass killers and to take steps to ensure mentally ill people like Adam Lanza can’t get guns.

But most people who get shot to death in this country don’t die in a movie theatre or at a shopping mall at the hands of a crazed gunman. Most are killed by somebody they know.

Mass shootings are relatively rare, as The New York Times has pointed out.

Roughly 75 per cent of homicides in 2011 were committed by a family member or acquaintance of some type, according to FBI statistics.

Nearly 68 per cent of those deaths involved firearms, but most of those victims don’t make national headlines and aren’t the subject of Senate hearings.

Even more invisible are the people who kill themselves with guns. According to a 2009 report cited by the CDC, roughly half of suicides were committed by firearms.

Since suicide can be impulsive, at least some of those people wouldn’t have died if it weren’t for firearms.

There’s no easy way to make sure fewer people get killed by their loved ones or kill themselves with guns.

But focusing the debate almost entirely on the mass shootings that grab headlines ignores the biggest casualties of gun violence.

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