Are Mass Shootings Uniquely American?

In the wake of the latest American mass shooting in Las Vegas, there was an immediate, reflexive narrative from the left that mass shootings (and gun violence in general) is unique to America. As stated in an article from FiveThirtyEight on Wednesday, “There is something distinctly American about this way of death.”

Consider the flurry of headlines that erupted after the latest devastation:

This is nothing new, either. After the mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, CO, then President Obama said, “I say this every time we’ve got one of these mass shootings: This just doesn’t happen in other countries.”

It’s an accusation that is coupled with the call for stricter gun controls, and the argument is that a crackdown on gun ownership will lead to a reduction in gun violence and overall crime.

Understandably, mass shootings receive a lot of media attention because of the ferocity and seemingly random suddenness of their occurrence. But for as long as this debate has raged through the decades, there remain a lot of blatant misconceptions from the left in regard to gun violence and gun control.

Are mass shootings uniquely American? Even if measured solely against other advanced nations?

The media run with this set of assumptions and overwhelm Americans with the narrative. And it would be justified if only it stood up to data and factual scrutiny – but it doesn’t…

US vs Europe

The reality is that most countries deal with this dilemma to varying degrees, and there’s nothing uniquely American about it. The United States doesn’t even rank at the top of the issue when it’s measured on a per capita basis.

From 2009-15, for example, the EU experienced 55% more casualties per capita from mass shootings (per the Crime Prevention Research Center).

In terms of annual death rate per million people from mass shootings, the United States ranks 11th.

The frequency of mass shootings per million people in the United States ranks 12th.

It must be stressed that this is not meant to diminish or dismiss the impact of mass shootings in the United States and across the world. It’s important, though, to analyze the issue with data to help consider possible solutions.

Mass shootings are not unique to America.

But is stricter gun control legislation the answer to the problem?

Gun Control

As a conservative, I sympathize with my friends on the left (to an extent) when they push gun control in the aftermath of mass shootings. After all, they believe that “common sense” gun control is the answer to the senseless loss of lives. If there were increased restrictions on assault weapons, mandated limits on ammunition and the number of guns that individuals could own, then this would certainly reduce the potentiality of mass shootings and gun violence.

But the data doesn’t support that argument either. There isn’t even a correlation to the argument, let alone causation.

In the United States, from 1993-2013, as the ownership of privately-owned firearms increased by 56%, the gun homicide rate decreased by 49%. That certainly doesn’t prove that more guns necessarily cause less crime, but it disproves the basic accusation that more guns cause more gun violence.

What’s unique to this latest mass shooting, however, is that Stephen Paddock was firing a fully-automatic rifle. Recent mass shootings in the United States have been associated with semi-automatic guns. Fully-automatic machine guns have been illegal in the United States since the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. And it wasn’t until authorities released information about the types of weapons Paddock used that we learned about a relatively new device called a “bump stock”.

A bump stock allows the user to modify a semi-automatic rifle to operate as a fully-automatic machine gun, and they’re completely legal. They were given the green light by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives back in 2010 during the Obama administration.

There is a reflexive defensiveness among conservatives when the left begins knocking on the door of gun control. It’s a hesitation caused from the more extreme elements of the left that want to ban all guns, for example. But if machine guns are illegal, then conservatives should be willing to consider the ban of bump stocks and similar devices.

As Jazz Shaw explains:

The fact is that if conservatives truly want to maintain the brand of being supporters of the rule of law in a society guarded by constitutional law and order, we must recognize (even if you disagree) that fully automatic weapons are illegal in almost every instance. (We have a few exceptions which all require the highest level of background checks and federal scrutiny.) We can have a separate debate on whether such a ban is acceptable if you wish, but as things currently stand, that’s the law.


These conversion kits and bump stocks only exist for one reason, and that’s to allow a semiautomatic rifle to fire as a fully automatic model… If you accept that the law forbids the possession of fully automatic weapons in all but the most limited cases, then these products should also be illegal unless the purchaser already qualifies for ownership of a fully automatic weapons. For everyone else they should be banned.

That is a reasonable and logical stance that should easily receive bipartisan support and provide common ground.

The left won’t stop there, to be sure, but at least it’s a wedge of agreement in an otherwise divisive issue.

About the author

Matt Christensen

View all posts