Americans Against Gun Violence extends heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of all the people killed in the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5. We also extend our deepest sympathy to all the surviving victims along with sincere wishes for a prompt and complete recovery.
At the same time, however, we agree with the statement made by the late Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut in 1968, following the assassinations of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy:
Pious condolences will no longer suffice….Quarter measures and half measures will no longer suffice….The time has now come that we must adopt stringent gun control legislation comparable to the legislation in force in virtually every civilized country of the world.
Since Senator Dodd made this staement in 1968, more U.S. civilians have died of gunshot wounds than all the U.S. soldiers killed in all the wars in which our country has ever been involved.
The Sutherland Springs mass shooting, in which at least 26 people were killed and 20 others wounded by a lone gunman using a semi-automatic rifle, comes exactly five weeks after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas, Nevada, in which at least 58 people were killed and hundreds more were wounded by a single gunman using similar firearms. Since the Las Vegas mass shooting, as has been the case after every other horrific mass shooting in the United States, Congress has done nothing to prevent similar mass shootings from recurring on a regular basis.
The regular occurrence of mass shootings is preventable. Mass shootings occur rarely, if at all, in other high income democratic countries of the world, all of which have far more stringent gun control regulations than the United States.
Following a mass shooting in 1996 in the resort town of Port Arthur, Australia, in which 35 people were killed and 23 wounded by a single gunman using semi-automatic rifles, it took the Australian government just 13 days to agree to ban all semi-automatic rifles. Australia already had stringent restrictions on civilian ownership of handguns. The Australian government subsequently bought back approximately 1 million semi-automatic rifles and melted them down. There have been no more mass shootings in Australia since the ban went into effect, and the rate of gun homicides in Australia, which was one fifteenth the rate in the United States, has subsequently dropped to one twenty-seventh the U.S. rate.
Preliminary reports from the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church mass shooting indicate that a bystander in an adjacent house may have used a rifle to mortally wound the alleged shooter, Devin Kelley, but only after the shooter had already killed 26 people and wounded 20 others in and around the church. If confirmed, the actions of the bystander are heroic and commendable. The gun lobby will almost certainly exploit the bystander’s heroism, though, to claim that the way to prevent mass shootings is to arm more law-abiding people.
An FBI study of 160 separate mass shooting incidents between 2000 and 2013 found that an armed bystander other than a security guard or off duty police officer stopped the shooter in only one case. In 21 cases, unarmed bystanders disabled and restrained the shooter.
Moreover, if arming law abiding citizens were the way to prevent mass shootings and other gun violence, the United States, which has by far the highest per capita rate of private gun ownership of any high income democratic country in the world, should have the least gun violence. In fact, though, the United States is the only high income democratic country in the world in which mass shootings occur on a regular basis, and the rate of gun homicide in the United States is 19.5 times higher than the average of the other high income democratic countries of the world.
Gun violence has been appropriately called America’s “shameful epidemic.” It is clearly shameful for someone to walk into a church and slaughter parishioners with a semi-automatic rifle, or for someone to open fire from a 32nd floor hotel room onto people gathered below to listen to a country music concert. It is also shameful, though, for us as a society to fail to take the obvious step necessary to prevent not only mass shootings, but also the daily carnage of gun violence that claims 99 lives on an average day in our country. It long past time that we should heed the words of the late Senator Thomas Dodd and adopt stringent gun control laws in our country comparable to the gun control laws that have long been in effect in every other high income democratic country of the world.