As Mass Shootings Continue, Americans Divided on their Cause

It’s little wonder Congress hasn’t acted on the issue.

The crime scene where a number of people, including a 3-year-old child, were shot in a city park on the South Side of Chicago on Thursday.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
Sept. 20, 2013, 8:41 a.m.

Around 10:15 Thursday night, 13 people were shot in a hail of bul­lets in a South Side bas­ket­ball court in Chica­go. Among those vic­tims was a 3-year-old boy, shot in the head near the ear, the bul­let ex­it­ing through his mouth. He re­mains in crit­ic­al con­di­tion at Mount Sinai Hos­pit­al.

It’s a tra­gic, but fa­mil­i­ar story for Chica­goans. Gun vi­ol­ence in the Windy City has pro­duced count­less, heart­break­ing im­ages of people who lost their lives to gang vi­ol­ence or ran­dom shoot­ings. In Janu­ary, the death of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl shot to death on her way home from school, shocked the city. Just a week later earli­er, she had at­ten­ded Pres­id­ent Obama’s in­aug­ur­a­tion with her high school march­ing band.

The Fed­er­al Bur­eau of In­vest­ig­a­tion re­leased its an­nu­al re­port this week on the num­ber of murders across the coun­try. It shows that Chica­go re­gistered more murders than any oth­er city in 2012, passing New York — a city with three times the num­ber of res­id­ents. The num­ber of murders in Chica­go in­creased from 431 in 2011 to 500 a year later. New York had 96 few­er murders than the year be­fore, with 419 murders in 2012.

But Amer­ic­ans still can’t de­cide why this hap­pens.

While much of the de­bate fol­low­ing the mass shoot­ing in the Wash­ing­ton Navy Yard has sur­roun­ded the level of se­cur­ity clear­ance for con­tract­ors and the men­tal-health sys­tem in this coun­try, there are still shoot­ings oc­cur­ring fre­quently across the coun­try, where those ar­gu­ments are ir­rel­ev­ant.

Polling shows that more Amer­ic­ans look to­ward oth­er factors for mass shoot­ings than ac­cess to weapons. Ac­cord­ing to a new Gal­lup Poll re­leased Fri­day, 48 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans blame the men­tal-health sys­tem for the mass shoot­ings; it was the No. 1 factor cited by those polled.

 

The poll shows that over the past two years, the num­ber of Amer­ic­ans who think easy ac­cess to guns is the reas­on for mass shoot­ings has de­clined. Gang af­fil­i­ations was not men­tioned in the polling.

There are also ma­jor di­vides among party lines about the causes of vi­ol­ence: 57 per­cent of Demo­crats blame easy ac­cess to guns, com­pared with just 22 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans. However, about half of both Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats cite men­tal health as a ma­jor factor, as well.

The poll was con­duc­ted Sept. 17-18, just two days after the Navy Yard shoot­ing. That tim­ing may have skewed res­ults to fa­vor the men­tal health ar­gu­ment. What should be con­cern­ing for Demo­crat­ic law­makers who want to re­ignite the gun-con­trol de­bate is that sup­port for stricter laws is de­creas­ing. The poll shows that just 49 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans be­lieve there should be stricter laws on fire­arm sales, as com­pared with 58 per­cent who said that in the af­ter­math of the shoot­ing in New­town, Conn., in Decem­ber 2012.

But as Con­gress re­mains in­act­ive in the area of gun con­trol, and the Amer­ic­an pub­lic re­mains di­vided on a way for­ward to re­duce gun vi­ol­ence, the real­ity of these mass shoot­ings in cit­ies like Chica­go is likely to con­tin­ue.

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