Gun Violence in the States

Note one very important caveat before reading further. The terms homicide and murder are often used interchangeably in discussions on gun control. These two terms, however, are not exactly the same. Homicide simply means one individual killing another individual(s); this could be in self-defense. Conversely, murder means that an individual has killed another individual with premeditated intent. Statistics on the causes of homicide are not always cut and dry, so what is sometimes called a murder may actually be a self-defensive homicide.

There were roughly 11,501 people murdered in the United States in 2011 (Jacobson 2013). Of these 11,501 individuals, 8,583 people were killed with firearms (Jacobson 2013). In other words, roughly seventy-five percent of all murders were committed with a firearm in the United States in 2011. 985 people were murdered in the state of Florida in 2011. Of these 985 individuals, 691 were killed with a firearm (Florida Department of Law Enforcement 2012). Hence firearms were used in more than seventy-percent of all homicides in Florida in 2011; an almost equivalent to the national percentage. It’s obvious that guns are contributing to an increase in our overall homicide count, but it is not obvious that gun control is the solution to the problem, because this assumption is far too simplistic and ignores many of the complexities involved in the issue.

Few issues have created such vitriolic and ferocious contentions as the issue of gun violence in the United States. In the aftermath of two major shooting massacres in 2012, the Newtown Connecticut Elementary School shooting and the Colorado Cinema Massacre, President Barrack Obama, U.S. Senate leaders, and various state governments have brought forth an abundance of proposals in hopes of preventing such tragedies from ever occurring again. However, it seems that after every major shooting massacre there is an immediate reaction by legislators at all levels of government– possibly to express to their constituents and victims of mass shootings that they recognize the issue and are trying to do something about it –to propose new laws to rectify the problem. Fortunately, despite horrific school shootings, schools still remain one of the safest places for our children (Hemenway 2002; Simon 2013).

The Second Amendment A lack of gun control, mental health issues, parental negligence, and various other “axioms” are purported to be the root causes of gun violence by pundits, legislators, and activists, from various political ideologies. Unfortunately, emotional reactions and their consequential ill thought proposals, often lead to stalemates, inaction of government, and the inevitable reoccurrence of another massacre, at which point the cycle repeats itself again. As David Hemenway explained in a 2002 academic journal, “In the wake of any gun tragedy, the response of one extreme faction in the American gun debate is to ban all guns; the response of the other extreme is to arm all citizens” (Hemenway 2002, 268). It is my goal with this paper to take a step back from the emotional responses to gun violence, dispel various posited myths about gun violence, and to objectively identify some of the complications of dealing with the issue. In the end, and to par with American federalism, individual states, such as Florida, should handle the issue of gun violence within their own borders and decide for themselves what is the best possible way to protect their citizens. I will propose a few possible solutions and how Florida, as a case study example, may enact them.

Methods and Fundamentals of my Analysis

In evaluating this issue and its’ potential solutions, I’ve researched mental health experts, firearms experts, education experts, legal experts, and the opinions and positions of various popular sources from both the left and the right wings of American politics. In trying to understand the motivations behind school shooters specifically, Bryan R. Warnick, Benjamin A. Johnson, and Samuel Rocha, provide a thorough examination of potential triggers (Warnick, & Johnson & Rocha 2010). To guide my research I sought to answer some of the following questions: Who is responsible for addressing this issue, the federal, state, or local government? What is the cause of gun violence, violence in general, and especially the cause of mass shootings, e.g. in schools? Will banning all guns outright solve the problem? Will putting greater controls on gun purchases solve the problem? What is the best way to ensure safety at public schools and venues? Are the mentally ill really more violent than mentally healthy individuals?

My next task was the compiling and analyzing of various crime statistics. Using 2011 as an observatory year, I found information on several questions. Exactly how many murders have there been in a year in the United States? How many murders were there in another westernized country in the same year? In both countries, how many of these murders were performed with firearms? What are these numbers in the state of Florida and how do they correspond with those in a foreign country and the nation at large? One set of statistics, however, does not seem to have been compiled entirely, and this is likely due to the extremely complex nature of the statistics sought.

In the larger gun control and gun rights debate, it is important to know with certainty just how many lives have been saved because of the existence of gun ownership. In other words, an answer to how many shooters have been stopped by armed civilians, only answers one question. It doesn’t tell us in certainty how many lives were saved because of that intervention. Likewise, how many lives have been saved because a tyrannical government chose not to attempt genocide or invasion because the populace was so heavily armed? Due to the ambiguity of these questions, it’s virtually impossible to find an empirical answer to them, but remaining conscious of them is important in considering gun rights, nonetheless.

Considering answers that do exist for all of the above questions, I wanted to know how can we address the problem of gun violence in the states, while preserving and protecting an individual’s right to bear arms as protected by the Second Amendment and the Florida State Constitution. My research often hit a dead end as causes of violence and shootings are not all that well understood in the first place. One psychiatric expert, Marco Iacoboni, explains that the major causes of violence can be found in a misfiring of our brains “control mechanisms” (Greenemeier 2011). Some claim that easy access to guns is the major contributor to gun violence (Karan & Stampalia 2005). Whereas some empirical studies have claimed that, “For murder and sexual assault, however, US Crime rates are significantly higher and do not seem to be readily explainable except by a vague reference to the ‘American psyche'” (Pryor 2010). Heather Stuart probably sums this up best when she states that, “… too little is known about the social contextual determinants of violence…” (Stuart 2003). Overall, gun violence is a complicated issue because violence itself is a complicated issue, but through my guiding questions and research, I believe there are a few rational proposals which may be pursued to deal with the issue of gun violence, whilst not violating individual rights, within the individual states.

Controlling the Agent: Causes of Gun Violence in the Individual

Firstly, it is extremely important to dispel the myth of there being a correlation between mental illness and violence. There simply isn’t one, as “… research supports the view the mentally ill are more often victims than perpetrators of violence” (Stuart 2003). One of the few things that has been shown to be a major trigger for violence, however, is substance abuse (Grohol 2004). Substance abuse consequences, such as impaired judgment, also corresponds with the claims of Marco Iacoboni that violence is a an issue of the self control mechanisms in the brain (Greenemeier 2011). Because of the often co-morbid nature of substance abuse with mental illness, statistics are often skewed. Overall, Dr. John M. Grohol also finds that, “Violence is most often a criminal activity which has little correlation with a person’s mental health. Most people who suffer from a mental disorder are not violent— there is no need to fear them” (Grohol 2004).

Secondly, focusing in on mass public shooters in particular, Warnick et al. found that while there were some similarities between school shooters, there were notable differences as well, such as some weren’t bullied but were indeed the bullies. On the similarities, however, they note:

… the school shooters were often bullied at school, they were often abused at home, they often fell under the spell of a ‘violence coach,’ they often possessed narcissistic personalities that turned what otherwise would be a suicide into a dramatic school shooting, they often publicized the event and turned it into a public ceremony… (Warnick et al. 2010, 373)

Most of these shooters were obsessed with “going out in a blaze of glory,” so to say. They carefully and consciously planned their attacks and anticipated the news coverage they would receive. This coincides with experts whom warn of the danger in overly publicizing these crises (Greenemeier 2011; Warnick et al. 2010, 381), as it provides incentive for the killers. “The expectations of many school shooters are that the rampage will end in their suicide” (Warnick et al. 2010, 378). So they see the entire act as a sort of ritualistic ceremony. “When the community response is anger and fear, the shooters seem to have succeeded in their aim” (Warnick et al. 2010, 381).

Lastly, there really is no easy answer to understanding the causes of gun violence in mass shooting scenarios, other than recognizing that many of the shooters are engaged in a sort of ritualistic suicidal ceremony. Nonetheless, many of the shooters exhibited some potential warning signs which may have been detectable by certain professionals. Gun violence in other instances seems heavily related to substance abuse and domestic disputes (Karan et al. 2005). Society, and in particular the medias’ drooling obsession with desiring to know every detail of these events, is a potential major motivator for these mass shooters. Moreover, an overall lack of self control mechanisms is a major cause of violent acts (Greenemeier 2011).

Conclusively, a potential means of controlling the agent in gun violence is to reach the individuals before they beget violence. Public schools could, instead of employing standard social workers to provide counseling, employ licensed and doctored psychologists whom could provide mediation services and expertise in recognizing early signs of violent tendencies. As Marco Iacoboni explains if a violent person was counseled in time, “… that person might have redirected some of the activity of…, (Greenemeier 2011)” their violent tendencies, “…toward a truly empathetic behavior” (Greenemeier 2011). In the adult world, various laws are already in place in the state of Florida and nationally, which take away the right of an individual to bear arms, via due process, in cases where a judge determines that the individual poses a threat to another, usually a domestic partner or ex-partner (Karan 2005). Lastly, society and media should find a way to restrain themselves from falling into the traps of these mass shooters, and stop ruminating over every detail of the events, so as to minimize incentives for future agents.

Controlling the Mechanism: Effectiveness of Gun Control Measures

David Hemenway compares gun violence solutions to the solutions of motor vehicle accidents. He says that the issues of major motor vehicle accidents were eventually minimized by redirecting focus on the, “… behavior of the driver…” (Hemenway 2002, 269), to finding, “… cost-effective ways to reduce injury…” (Hemenway 2002, 269). In other words, while guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but a focus on guns and other safety measures, beyond human behavior, may be a better means of dealing with gun violence. Additionally, as was shown in the previous section, broad-stroked laws preventing mentally ill individuals from obtaining guns may not only be ineffective, but indeed a highly virulent policy putting mentally ill individuals in even greater danger. This is not to say that individuals suffering from psychotic disorders should be allowed to obtain firearms for their protection, but what about those who suffer from merely neurotic disorders? Indeed, the overwhelming majority of mental disorders that afflict the population are neurotic in nature and not psychotic.

For example, “… OCD is more common than asthma or diabetes” (Schwartz 1996, xiv). Likewise, some forms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), particularly the Pure-O form, could cause improperly trained medical professionals to improperly diagnose someone as homicidal, despite the fact that they are more than likely diametrically-opposed to committing such an act (Phillipson 1991). This should cause great alarm, because if Florida were to impose a restriction on anyone ever diagnosed with a mental illness from obtaining a gun, it could be infringing on the individual rights of millions of Floridians who are simply dealing with anxiety and/or depression, and not psychosis. In short, focusing on the agents in gun violence will only minimize the risks to a certain extent, and may cause substantial violations of individual liberties.

Through my research I’ve found much disinformation about gun violence and prevention. It is difficult to determine what really works. However, it does appear empirically evident that banning all firearms, as has essentially been done in the United Kingdom and Australia (Leigh & Neill 2010, 10; Wang-Sheng & Suardi 2010), will decrease the amount of firearm murders over time. This, though, is not what the political left in America is ostensibly arguing. Instead, they argue that we should limit magazine sizes and types of weapons, such as assault weapons. The reality of the situation, however, is that, “Murders by knives, blunt objects and body parts each individually outweighed those committed using a rifle” (Jacobson 2013). However, handguns are the most used weapon for committing murders. So why are we focused on assault weapons and clip size? It seems intellectually dishonest for those on the left to distract our efforts towards something that simply is not the problem. Likewise, gun and legal expert, Eugene Volokh, argues persuasively that limiting magazine sizes and banning assault weapons will almost certainly be ineffective in decreasing homicides by firearms (Volokh 2012).

The only empirically plausible physical gun ban, which would significantly impact the percentage of individuals murdered with a gun, would be to simply ban all guns. Many on the political left compare the statistics of the United Kingdom to that of the United States. The United Kingdom has essentially banned all firearms for personal use. For this paper, I’ll compare the state of Florida, specifically, with the United Kingdom. For example, the United Kingdom, with a population of 63.2 million in 2011 (Swan 2012), had a total of 636 murders in 2010-2011, 58 of which were committed with firearms (UK 2012). Comparatively, Florida with a population of 18.9 million in 2011 (U.S. Census 2012), had a total of 985 murders in 2011, 691 of which were committed with firearms (Florida Department of Law Enforcement 2012). Pinellas County in particular, the county in which I reside, had a total of 53 murders in 2011 out of a population of 918,496 (Florida Statistical Analysis Center: FDLE 2011). I was unsuccessful in finding numbers on Pinellas county firearm homicides but I can extrapolate that roughly 37 of the homicides were committed with firearms. I extrapolate this based on 70% of all murders in Florida being committed with a firearm. There were 53 murders in Pinellas County in 2011, 70% of this is roughly 37. I’ve compiled these statistics into table 1.0 below as a means of summarizing my findings.

Table 1.0

Statistics for 2011* United Kingdom Florida Pinellas County
Population 63,200,000 18,900,000 918,496
Homicides 636 985 53
Firearm Homicides 58 691 37 extrapolated
% of Firearm Homicides to Overall Homicides 9.119% 70.15% 70.15% extrapolated
Data Sources

Florida Department of Law Enforcement. 2012. “Crime in Florida, 1971-2011 Florida uniform crime report”. [Computer program]. Tallahassee, FL: FDLE

Florida Statistical Analysis Center: FDLE. 2011. “Crime in Florida, Florida uniform crime report”. [Computer program]. Tallahassee, FL.

Swan, Jonathan. 2012. “2011 Census, Population and Household Estimates for the United Kingdom”. Office for National Statistics.

UK. 2012. “Homicides, firearm offences and intimate violence 2010 to 2011: supplementary volume 2 to crime in England and Wales 2010 to 2011”. Home Office Statistical Bulletin.

U.S. Census. 2012. Florida.

*The United Kingdom runs their years for crime statistics from September of 2010 – September of 2011.

The political left, then, does not serve this debate any progress by calling for bans on assault weapons and clip sizes or when they compare homicide statistics to other nations in limited contexts. There are population and demographic differences between the UK and Florida, and it should be noted that the overall homicide rate is higher in Florida than the UK, indicating that we have an overall problem of violence in Florida and America (Emery 2013). The political right, however, doesn’t serve this debate any progress by ignoring the above statistics and/or citing questionable studies and making deceptive half-true claims (Jacobson 2013). Clearly, far more individuals are murdered in the state of Florida with firearms than in the UK in lieu of the fact that the UK population is actually 30% higher than Florida’s.

Moreover, some gun control studies have shown that analysis of most gun control measures in the states have provided, “… no evidence that gun control reduces crime rates. Nor is there any evidence that lax gun laws in neighboring states contribute to higher crime rates” (Moorhouse & Wanner 2006, 113). So, again, what is clear here is that gun control methods already tried, and proposals to ban assault weapons and limit magazine sizes, are likely to be ineffective at reducing gun violence. On the contrary, “Effective gun control may entail… Government extensive and intrusive enough to regulate all private transfers of firearms…” (Moorhouse et al. 2006, 122). However, I would argue, based on my analysis thus far, that the only thing that will substantially decrease gun violence in terms of gun bans, would be to simply ban all guns. However, this would be a dangerous and impractical solution for Florida and the United States.

Conclusion: Proposed Solutions

To summarize controlling the agent and mechanisms, there are a few things which may be done to decrease gun violence in Florida. Firstly, shooting massacres are rare and the main reason firearm homicides are so high in the United States and Florida, is because of substance abuse and domestic violence issues. The main mechanism used in firearm homicides are handguns. A good gun control method, at the state level of Florida, then, would be to consider improving, “…firearm storage practices and making it more difficult for adolescents and other unlawful purchasers to obtain firearms in the secondary market” (Hemenway 2002). Perhaps issuing a state-wide background checked gun license with required gun safety tests, similar to road safety tests required to receive a drivers license, should be required for individuals to receive a gun license at the age of eighteen. After obtaining the license they should be free to conceal carry and purchase arms.

On the agent side of this issue, Judges need to be more proactive in issuing gun banning injunctions against individuals who have shown violent tendencies in addition to substance abuse issues. Public schools should, instead of employing social workers and standard counselors, employ full-time licensed clinical psychologists whom can mediate bullying conflicts, provide state-subsidized psychotherapy sessions for students, and can recognize signs of potential violent tendencies in students. Catching these signs at an early age, and redirecting the individuals control mechanisms to empathy instead of violence, will help decrease future gun violence. Likewise, these same psychologists should run workshops and teach required courses at the schools to teach students about violence and other psychological problems so they can be caught and addressed at a young age. Society and media should declare a new rule of journalism ethics which involves downplaying the role of the agents and instead focus on healing and prevention immediately, so as to remove incentives of future agents from committing such acts as well.

John Lott argues that, “Right-to-carry laws reduce the number of people killed or wounded from multiple victim public shootings as many attackers are either deterred from attacking or when attacks do occur they are stopped before the police can arrive” (Lott & Landes 2000, 20). It should be noted that Lott has been criticized by several academic researchers (Ayres & Donohue III 2003). Nonetheless, it would seem practical to allow free and prudent individuals the right to carry concealed arms. The Florida State Legislature is currently debating a bill that would allow school principals to authorize certain teachers, who have received proper training, to carry a concealed weapon on school grounds (McGrory, Kathleen. 2013). If we trust trained police officers to carry guns, why should we not trust the ability of trained educators to carry concealed guns? Florida should pass this legislation.

It is my hope that this paper has shown the complexities of gun violence in our States and has dispelled many of the myths surrounding gun violence. I will restate, briefly, a few facts I discovered. Firstly, the mentally ill are no more violent than healthy individuals. Secondly, school shootings are rare and schools still remain relatively safe. Thirdly, banning assault rifles and limiting clip sizes are unlikely to have any effect on gun violence rates. Fourthly, the United States and Florida, have a significantly higher rate of homicides than the UK, and the overwhelming majority of these homicides are committed with handguns. Finally, short of outlawing all guns, especially handguns, gun bans are unlikely to decrease gun violence. Conclusively, and to par with American federalism and in the spirit of American freedom, Florida should handle the issue of gun violence within their state and may do so by enacting some of my aforementioned solutions through state legislation.


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Emery, Eugene C. 2013. “Facebook posting on handgun deaths has out-of-date numbers, but the trend persists”. PolitiFact.

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Greenemeier, Larry. 2011. “What Causes Someone to Act on Violent Impulses and Commit Murder?”. Scientific American.

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©2013 Jonathan R. Gibbons, All Rights Reserved. No Copying and/or Distribution of this information is permitted without explicit authorization by Jonathan R. Gibbons.

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Gibbons, Jonathan R. 2013. “Gun Violence in the States.” Saint Petersburg, FL: Gibbons Report.