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The Social Psychology of Gun Violence in America

The staggering human cost of gun violence in the United States

During the few minutes that you devote to reading this blog, two people will be shot with a gun in the United States. Chances are that one of them will die.

According to statistics gathered between 2013 and 2016, every day in America, 316 people are shot with a gun. Of those 316, 106 will die, and 39 of those 106 will be intentionally murdered. Suicides from guns will account for another 64 deaths.

Over 120,000 Americans are shot each year with a gun, including 8,000 children. Chicago Illinois is one of the most gun-violent cities in America. In 2021 there were over 1,100 homicides, 90% of which resulted from gunshots. It is fairly safe to assume that these statistics, which are at least six years old, understate the number of deaths which will be attributable to guns in the United States in 2022.

Gun violence has traumatized the entire United States

Gun violence impacts people in many ways. It impacts people who are directly involved, including survivors of gunshots wounds. It impacts the friends and family of gunshot victims. These people, at the very least, will suffer long-term, perhaps lifelong post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to the Child Welfare League of America, 5%, that is ---one out of twenty--- of America’s children have witnessed a shooting. There are neighborhoods in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles where children can’t venture outside their homes to play with neighborhood friends. They can’t play in the front room of the house for fear bullets will come flying in through the window. They can’t walk to the library or to activity centers which limits their social and intellectual development. They sometimes sleep in bathtubs at night for

protection from errant bullets.

How will this kind of fearful, mental outlook affect this younger generation as they grow and develop into adulthood?

Plus, gun violence has a collective impact on the psyches of everyone in America.

In April, 1999, fifteen people were killed by guns in Littleton, Colorado at Columbine High School. The entire nation was shocked. How could this happen in this otherwise peaceful community at the foot of the Rocky Mountains? In 1999, a mass shooting like the one at Columbine was a rarity. Everyone assumed it was an anomaly. Surely, we’d never see anything like it again.

Over the last 12 years, since 2009, there have been 270 mass shootings in the U.S., which have resulted in 1,514 deaths and 980 people being shot and wounded. These statistics are predicated on a mass shooting being defined as a shooting in which at least 4 people lose their lives, excluding the shooter(s). But there are other definitions of what constitutes a mass shooting that involves lower casualty thresholds. Thus, under some definitions, a mass shooting in the U.S. occurs nearly every day. Gun violence in America is an epidemic.

Regardless of how you define "mass shooting" and its accompanying statistics, there are far too many gun deaths in the United States. There are so many now that news media organizations can’t cover them all. These mass shootings forever change the lives of the thousands of people who are directly or indirectly tied to the victims.

American Medical Association characterizes gun violence as a public health and mental health crisis

The social psychological consequences of the gun culture is even more devastating.

Hundreds of millions of people are exposed to these stories on television and in newspapers. So, these events don’t just traumatize the victims...they traumatize everybody.

The American Medical Association has characterized gun violence as a ‘public health/ mental health crisis’. Nearly nine out of ten Americans agree that gun violence is a threat to public health.

All of us who are exposed to these continual accounts of horrific violence are impacted, to some degree, by post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD results in a variety of anxiety-related symptoms, including depression and becoming overly fearful of situations that may potentially trigger flashbacks. Some people are more susceptible to PTSD than others. PTSD is normally caused by a single traumatic event or series of limited incidents. Over time, people tend to recover. But in the case of gun violence, especially mass shootings, the exposure is continual. It never goes away but continually repeats itself, on the news.

Our collective social psychological psyche is re-impacted, over and over again. There is no let-up, no recovery period. According to a 2018 Pew research study, the majority of adolescents have a conscious fear of a shooting taking place in their school.

Since it is next to impossible to avoid being exposed to accounts of these events people, have developed defense mechanisms, either consciously or subconsciously. By ignoring and/or accepting them as commonplace, we build an immunity to them. But this immunity equates to complacency, and only serves to invite more and more of these horrific events. A number of websites, like Moms Demand Action have been established for survivors of gun violence to tell their stories; a story wall. These stories are heart-rending. Everyone should spend a few minutes on one of these sites.

The personal cost of gun violence is immeasurable

One story is shared by a father, Robert Weiss, who lost his daughter, Veronika, to a gun violence incident on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara. One Friday evening, he and his wife got a call from one of Veronika’s sorority sisters informing them that there had been a shooting incident near the campus and that the area had been put on lockdown. They rushed up to Santa Barbara, trying to call their daughter on her cell phone from their car.

After arriving near the campus, they were barred by roadblocks. They continued to try to ping Veronika’s cell phone with a tracking application which was installed on her phone. They could see the phone’s location, but it was stationary. After an hour of tension, the phone began to move. What they would later learn is that Veronika’s body, along with her phone, was in transit to the county morgue.

Robert Weiss and his wife have since become activists, fighting for some kind of resolution to America’s gun violence epidemic. In his own words, he sums up his story:

“We understand what nobody else does. We understand the pain, anger, and loneliness caused by gun violence, but we are doing something about it. We are fighting every day, using our voices to make change. And I will keep doing so until we live in a world where senseless gun violence has been eradicated.”


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