- by Graham Holton
- The Guardian
- Issue #2053
Photo: mathiaswasik / wasikphoto.com – flickr.com (CC BY-SA 2.0)
On 29th January 1979 Brenda Spencer, a 16-year-old girl, shot and killed the principal and a custodian, and wounded eight children and a police officer at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California. When asked why she shot them, she replied “I don’t like Mondays.” Spencer was the first US mass school shooter.
Since then, mass school shootings (four or more people, excluding the shooter, are injured or killed) have increased exponentially. Michael Moore’s commentary on US gun violence, Bowling for Columbine (2002), won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. The film made little impression on the US psyche and its gun culture. The sale of guns continued to increase.
According to Gun Violence Archive, which lists all US mass school shootings, on a single day, 7th May 2023, there were seven: three in California, two in Missouri, and one each in Wisconsin and New Jersey. This is despite many schools having armed security officers. With each mass shooting gun sales increased. According to the PBS Newshour (21st April 2023), “The US is setting a record pace for mass killings in 2023.”
Guns are surprisingly easy for children to obtain. Between 2017 to 2021 more than 1 million guns were stolen from private individuals. A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives report in February 2023 showed a shortening of the turnaround time for a legally purchased gun to be used in a crime. More than 4.6 million children live in a home with loaded and unlocked firearms. Research funded by the National Institute of Justice examining mass shootings between 1966 to 2019, found that over 80 percent of mass shooters at K-12 (Kindergarten to Year 12) schools stole guns from family members.
The USA has the largest population of civilian gun owners in the world; 45 per cent of US households own at least one firearm. The US firearm manufacturing and retail industries play a huge role in the national economy and US popular culture. The industry contributes billions of dollars to the national economy annually, employing 169,523 people, with annual salaries of up to US$40,000. To ensure that profits are maintained, the industry makes major contributions to politicians. In the 2016 election it spent US$54.4 million. During the 2022 midterm elections, gun manufacturers spent US$9.6 million on lobbying, giving the gun industry massive leverage in Congress and in public opinion. Gun manufacturers ensure states maintain Stand Your Ground laws, which allows citizens to “protect” themselves if they feel their lives are threatened, thereby increasing gun sales.
The Reload Newsletter (6th January 2023) says that according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the industry’s trade group, there were 16.4-million-gun sales in 2022. Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the NSSF, said this shows that, “there continues to be a strong desire from law-abiding Americans to purchase the firearms of their choice.” Since the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on 29th May 2022, and the resulting assault weapons ban passed by the US House of Representatives, gun sales have continued to rise.
In 2022, the Guns & Ammunition Manufacturing Industry’s annual sales were worth US$51 billion, 32 per cent above 2018. The US accounts for 46 percent of the world’s civilian-held firearms. As of 2021, guns per capita was 120.5 guns for every 100 residents, with 58 percent of gun owners being male. White people are the most likely to own a gun, with 47 per cent of white households owning at least one firearm.
Mass shootings increased from 358 in 2016 to 692 in 2021. In 2023 mass shootings occur every day, many being mass school shootings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun-related deaths have reached epidemic proportions. Every year over 30,000 people are killed and many more wounded. Every day 96 people are killed by guns and twice as many are injured. Of these 30 per cent are homicides and the remainder are suicides and accidents, seven of whom are children and teens. Many of the guns used are military-level weapons which were purchased legally.
It is not in the interest of gun manufacturers to prevent mass shootings, as each event creates fear, making people buy guns to protect themselves from possible armed attacks. Others purchase guns in case firearms bans are implemented. Frederick Reese writes in Mint Press News (7th May 2013) that, “Ultimately, it can be argued that capitalism, instead of civil responsibility, has become the modus operandi in the gun control debate.”
On 26th May 2022, Republican Carolyn B Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent requests to Daniel Defense, LLC, Smith & Wesson Brands, Inc., Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. and other gun manufacturers for information on their sales of AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles, including revenue, data on deaths or injuries caused by the firearms they manufacture, and their marketing and promotional materials. The Committee exposed the role played by the firearm industry in fuelling the gun violence epidemic. On 27th July, Maloney said, “it is clear that gun makers are not going to change unless Congress forces them to finally put people over profits.”
On 19th August Maloney introduced key legislation to hold the firearm industry accountable for selling weapons of war to civilians. The Firearm Industry Fairness Act imposes a 20 per cent tax on the total revenue of gun manufacturers who produced assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The Firearm Industry Crime and Trafficking Accountability Act requires that every firearm manufacturer create a monitoring system to track crimes committed with guns they sold, and mandates that they cease distributing weapons to retailers who sell guns used for criminal acts. The penalties are not harsh enough to deter mass school shootings as long as the CEOs remain unaccountable.