America’s Real Mass Murder Problem

As Dan O’Donnell writes, the unspeakable tragedy in Uvalde, Texas is finally getting some to wake up to the fact that America has a huge problem with gun murders.

June 1, 2022
Perspective by Dan O’Donnell

The horrific mass murder in Uvalde, Texas has shocked the nation to its very core.  It was an unspeakable, almost indescribable tragedy…and its death toll was matched in a matter of days on the streets of Chicago.  This is not to in any way to minimize the deaths of the 19 precious children and two heroic teachers who lost their lives in one of the most shockingly evil crimes in American history, but rather to provide some perspective on murder in this country.

The massacre in Uvalde has rightfully dominated headlines for the past week, but the sad reality is that more than three times more people are murdered in America every single day.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 24,576 died by homicide in 2020, the most recent year for which statistics are available.  19,384 died by firearms, an average of 53 per day.

In Chicago alone over the Memorial Day weekend, 51 people were shot and nine killed.  In a span of just a few hours Sunday, there were two different mass shootings (defined as four or more people shot in one location in a short period of time).

Yet neither received any significant media attention outside of Chicago.  Even in the city, the violent weekend—the most violent Memorial Day holiday in five years—was largely met with a shrug.  Many, sadly, are resigned to the fact that this is now life in America’s cities.

The Gun Violence Archive, which tracks mass shootings and mass murders in America, reports that of the 11 mass murders (defined as four or more people killed in one place in a short period of time), all but two were either domestic violence incidents, shootouts between rival gangs, or robberies gone wrong.  In other words, they were the sorts of crimes to which America has grown accustomed over the past two years.

Want proof?  One of those mass murders was in Milwaukee, and the killer is still on the loose.  In spite of this, it was out of the news cycle within days of the gruesome discovery of six victims shot execution-style at a duplex on the city’s northwest side back in January.  After the victims were identified, there was no follow-up reporting on a potential motive, no updates on the hunt for the gunman.  Nothing.  The city just sort of moved on.

Yet this is precisely the type of violence that kills infinitely more Americans—including children—than mass shootings like the Uvalde massacre.  So far this year, 76 people have been killed in mass murders.  But according to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 8,000 people have been murdered.  This means fewer than one percent of the nation’s murder victims were killed in the sort of incidents that America is trying desperately to stop.

The other 99 percent? Nothing much anyone can do about that.  Put more police officers on the streets? That’s a recipe for more racism.  Lock up career criminals and throw away the key before they start killing people in the commission of their crimes? That doesn’t advance social justice.

The only solutions being offered focus on disarming the law-abiding by making it far more difficult to purchase a firearm through a licensed dealer.  This may come as something of a shock, but the people who actually use guns to commit crimes don’t buy those guns from licensed dealers.  Just ask them: In a 2016 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of federal and state prison inmates, just 1.3 percent said they bought the firearm they used to commit a crime from a retailer.  Of those, just 0.8 percent bought their gun at a gun show.  56 percent either got it from the underground market, stole it, or found it at the scene of the crime.

If America is really serious about cracking down on gun homicides, it can start by demanding the breakup of this underground market where most crime guns are obtained.  Furthermore, it can demand the breakup of the lucrative drug trade that is fueling much of the rise in gang violence and subsequent increase in homicides during this recent two-year surge.

In other words, it can demand a crackdown on crime through more police officers on the streets, more prosecutors willing to charge serious crimes, and more judges willing to hand down tough sentences before a career criminal ever has a chance to commit murder.

It worked in the mid-1990s, when America’s homicide rate cratered, and it can work again.  But first America needs to be honest with itself about its murder problem.