Scientific American, August 2023
In the past decade, mass killings at schools, nightclubs, places of worship and other once unimaginable settings have shaken the U.S. While mass shootings comprise 0.1 percent of gun deaths nationwide, they appear headed on a grim upward spiral. This year has been the worst recorded for mass-shooting incidents in the U.S., according to Northeastern University’s database, with 33 by mid-August. Mass shootings are growing exponentially, demanding urgent attention. Other gun deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidents, are three orders of magnitude more numerous, but in contrast have stabilized, reaching a kind of equilibrium over the past century.
That means—despite the grip that gun politics have on U.S. lawmakers—a sharp break is needed from “business as usual” gun laws to derail the exponential increase in mass-shooting murders.
Throughout history, U.S. society has grappled with limiting deaths resulting from the unlawful and inappropriate use of firearms. In the 20th century, annual gun-related deaths steadily increased until the early 1930s, when they reached around 10per 100,000 people (see “U.S. Gun Death Rate” chart). The rate stabilized thereafter despite the increasing availability and effectiveness of guns, oscillating around that homeostatic equilibrium, a self-regulating process that maintains its stability while adjusting to changing outside conditions. In subsequent decades both laws and wartime partly suppressed gun death numbers for some time, while relaxation of gun controls led to increases.