Mass shootingsWant to Stop Mass Shootings?

Published 13 August 2019

“There are a whole range of things that could play a role in prevention [of gun violence], including better parenting, less racism, better education, more job opportunities,” says Harvard’s David Hemenway. “All of these things might have some effect on reducing shootings in the U.S. We should improve all those things. But the most cost-effective interventions involve doing something about guns. For example, as far as we can tell, virtually all developed countries have violent video games and people with mental health issues. There’s no evidence that I know of that shows that people in the U.S. have more mental health issues, especially violent mental health issues. Compared to other high-income countries we are just average in terms of non-gun crime and non-gun violence. The elephant in the room, the thing that makes us stand out among the 29 other high-income countries, is our guns and our weak gun laws. As a result, we have many more gun-related problems than any other high-income country.”

The mass shootings over the weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, killed at least 31 people and wounded scores more. Those incidents were just the latest such deadly attacks in the United States, which has tallied more than 250 since Jan. 1, according to a new report by Gun Violence Archive. The group defines a mass shooting as one that claims the lives of at least four victims. David Hemenway, professor of  health policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and author of the 2006 book Private Guns, Public Health, has spent much of his career studying gun violence. He recently spoke with the Harvard Gazette’s Colleen Walsh about what can be done to stop mass shootings. 

Colleen Walsh: How do other countries, where mass killings are less common, handle gun issues differently?
David Hemenway
: First, it’s important to recognize the other high-income countries start off with many fewer guns and much stronger gun laws. Second, often when there is a mass shooting in another country it’s a time when everyone is thinking about guns, and it becomes an opportunity to think about what kinds of gun laws are needed. Typically it is a time when countries improve their gun laws, making them stronger, not solely to prevent mass shootings but to also to help prevent other firearm-related problems, such as homicides, suicides, gun robbery, gun intimidations, and gun accidents.