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Looking for Lessons Within Reports of Multiple Mass Shootings

A news report recently presented this disturbing headline: “There Were At Least 11 Mass Shootings Across the US This Weekend” (Silverman, 2021).  Critics often express concern that the news media’s attention to such events distorts our understanding of gun violence in the United States.  Indeed, if one were to view mass shootings as the central problem of gun violence, then there would be inadequate recognition that two-thirds of gun deaths in a typical year are from suicides.  Moreover, many more homicides and gun injuries stem from the shooting of one or two individuals than from shootings that count as “mass shootings,” which typically are defined as three or more people dead or injured in a single gunfire incident.

This is not to say that we should overlook or minimize the problem of mass shootings.  News coverage of such incidents can call the public’s attention to the general problem of gun violence and raise in stark terms issues concerning which weapons should be available for purchase by the public and how gun purchases should be regulated.  In addition, as other recent news articles remind us, close examinations of mass shootings can help reveal important aspects of gun violence problems that might otherwise be overlooked or underestimated.

By its title, one article reveals a significant aspect of gun violence that is illuminated by recent mass shootings:  “The American Gun Crisis?  It’s Largely a Domestic Violence Crisis” (Donegan, 2021). There are many research studies documenting the extent to which the presence of a firearm in a home increases the risk that women will be victims of gun violence.  Studies also indicate the extent to which mass shootings occur within households. Even mass shootings in public places can be based on domestic or intimate partner violence that targets girlfriends, spouses, or other family members.  The article highlighted two recent mass shootings, the one at the Colorado Springs birthday party in which seven people died and the Austin shooting in which a former police officer killed his ex-wife, stepdaughter, and stepdaughter’s boyfriend.  A recognition of the domestic violence context of many mass shootings may help us to think about possible harm-reduction strategies that provide greater protections for those threatened with violence and reduce the ease with which threatening individuals can acquire and keep firearms.

In the aftermath of mass shootings, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives—typically known by the shorthand abbreviation “ATF”—is expected to trace the path through which the shooter acquired the weapon.  Yet, as made clear in the article, “How the A.T.F., Key to Biden’s Gun Plan, Became the N.R.A. ‘Whipping Boy,’” opponents of gun regulation have systematically hindered the ATF’s ability to do its job (Thrush, Hakim, and McIntire, 2021).  The following quotation from the article highlights an especially troubling aspect of the limits placed on an important public safety agency:

In 2003, the N.R.A. helped draft the so-called Tihart Amendment— named for its sponsor, former Representative Todd Tihart…–which put severe restrictions on the A.T.F.’s ability to share gun-tracing data.  It also requires the F.B.I. to destroy most gun purchase records within 24 hours after a background check and it blocks the A.T.F. from requiring dealers to provide records of their inventories.

The onslaught continued.  In a series of moves that the N.R.A. Backed in 2011, the A.T.F. was barred from transferring enforcement authority to the F.B.I. or the Secret Service, and limits were put in place on unannounced inspections of gun dealers and on digitizing the agency’s records (Thrush, Hakim, and McIntire, 2021).

As to the last point in the quotation, the article describes in detail the A.T.F.’s struggle to maintain, preserve, and search through mountains of paper records that should quite obviously be digitized and searchable by using computers.  A bill has been introduced in Congress, called “The Gun Records Restoration and Preservation Act,” to correct these deficiencies (Collins, 2021).  But what are the odds that such a bill can pass both houses of Congress?  The Senate has not yet even strengthened background checks for gun purchases, a policy that public opinion polls show is supported by more than 80 percent of Americans.  It remains uncertain if the divided Senate will act on any gun safety measures that are enacted by the House.

We all need to look more closely at the various facets of gun violence problems and the impediments to reducing risk and harm.  We are all unavoidably numb from never-ending reports about gun violence, especially with the rise of incidents during the pandemic.  However, we cannot shut our eyes and ears to the problems underlying the issue of gun violence.  Please consider reading the aforementioned articles to see how we can learn about the nature of problems—and the possibilities for reform—by always looking more closely to recognize overlooked details about our nation’s continuing self-inflicted nightmare.

Christopher E. Smith, J.D., Ph.D.
MCPGV Board President

Collins, “Who Sold That Gun?  Nobody’s Telling,” New York Times, May 12, 2021 (

Donegan, “The American Gun Crisis?  It’s Largely a Domestic Violence Crisis,” The Guardian, May 13, 2021 (

Silverman, “There Were At Least 11 Mass Shootings Across the US This Weekend,” CNN, May 11, 2021 (

Thrush, D. Hakim, and M. McIntire, “How the A.T.F., Key to Biden’s Gun Plan, Became an N.R.A. ‘Whipping Boy,’” New York Times, May 2, 2021 (


The Michigan Capitol Commission voted unanimously to support a limited prohibition on citizen-carried firearms inside the state Capitol. However, this ban does not apply to the Capitol grounds or to individuals with conceal carry permits. While an important first step, the Capitol Commission has a long way to go. Show your support and urge your representatives to ban all citizen firearms on the Capitol grounds!

Let’s make our voices heard and put an end to this dangerous practice!

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