Once again, a mass shooting has erupted in the United States, this time in San Bernardino, California. Some authorities and media are already describing the killings as a possible act of Muslim terrorism. I see the incident--which occurred less than a week after a man shot three people to death at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado--as a symptom of a far more serious problem: the lack of effective gun control in the U.S.
As I have reported previously, between 1970 and 2007, a total of 3,292 people in the U.S. were killed by terrorists, resulting in an annual risk of one in 3.5 million. Almost all those deaths occurred on a single day, 9/11/01.
In contrast, more than 32,000 Americans are shot to death every year, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Of those, more than 11,000 people are murdered and almost 20,000 kill themselves. The U.S., which has more firearms per capita than any other nation, has rates of gun-related killings much higher than any other developed nation.
The American fetish for guns hurts non-Americans, too. The U.S. is the world’s leading source for small arms—defined as weapons that can be carried and operated by a single person—as it is for larger, more expensive weapons, such as tanks and jet fighters. Small arms, which range from pistols and rifles to rocket-launched grenades and shoulder-fired missiles, are the biggest killers in wars around the world. The International Action Network on Small Arms estimates that more than 600 million are in circulation. The Action Network lobbies for tighter national and international controls on the manufacture and trade of small arms, but the National Rifle Association has successfully blocked international as well as domestic gun control.
If the U.S. devoted as much effort to gun control as it does to countering terrorism, the world would be a much safer place.