“In the 1960s the average gun owner owned about 2.5 guns, today the average gun owner owns eight guns. So mostly the increase in gun purchases are by people who already own guns.”
Author of Guns Across America, Robert Spitzer, spoke with Simi Sara about yesterday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.
Spitzer is a Professor & Department Chair at the Political Science Department at the State University of New York at Cortland . He’s also the author of five books on gun policy, including Guns Across America.
On San Bernardino
Spitzer says when he heard that there were two shooters, he immediately began to wonder about the circumstances.
“As soon as you have two or more people, it’s a conspiracy, and when it became clear early on that there was a high degree of planning and forethought, and preparation – that began to change my sense of what was going on.”
He says the most frequent characteristics among mass shootings in the U.S. these days is people who have mental problems, anger issues, people who are acting alone, and people who are often both homicidal and suicidal.
“But none of those things were at play in this particular incident.”
Spitzer says the details that emerged about the suspects who were killed, that they were Muslim and Islamic, throws into the mix the suggestion of other political issues at play, and whether or not it was a political act.
“Whether it’s an expression of religious belief, or an anti-government expression, or an interpersonal dispute. It’s hard to know right now.”
Police have said the male was at the event with co-workers, had a verbal altercation, left the party and then returned twenty minutes later with weapons.
“In military-style gear with two assault-style rifles, and two handguns, large capacity bullet magazines with them. And with explosives, which isn’t something you can swing by the store and pick up on your way to an event. So they clearly had prepared those, and that was part of the long term preparation [that was] obviously behind this.”
Have Americans become immune to mass shootings?
Spitzer says to a certain extent Americans have become numbed by the repetitive nature of these events.
“Especially because they receive so much attention, and understandably so. We have a vigorous and free press, we have 24 hour news channels, we have the internet. So we are inundated with the information, and it’s good because it informs us. But it also has the unfortunate effect of causing people to people to slowly tune this out.”
This can also lead to a sense of hopelessness that nothing can be done, which feeds the narrative for those who oppose changes in gun laws, like the NRA.
The uphill climb to change gun laws
The argument on the NRA’s side is that more guns make it safer, but in reality having a gun will not necessarily protect a person in a mass shooting situation.
“In the real world of these events, they’re so chaotic, so frenetic, so brief, that the idea that a civilian, an amateur with a handgun could help the situation, is slim to none. And the idea that they might make the situation worse, or even get themselves shot being mistaken for a bad person, is very great.”
Some American gun laws do have overwhelming public support to change:
- Currently, people on the government’s terrorist watch list are allowed to buy guns legally.
- A whopping 40% of gun purchases occur with no background check whatsoever, though New York state has enacted their own law for background checks, to good effect.
Why change to gun laws is inevitable
Spitzer says he thinks in the long run changes will happen, but not in the near future.
“Partly because of public opinion on the side of change, partly because there’s some new interest groups that have for the time in history outspent the National Rifle Association in political campaigns – that’s a brand new phenomenon.
And thirdly because fewer and fewer Americans own guns, use guns or are interested in guns. It’s a declining demographic in American society.
It’s mostly an activity engaged in by older white males, and that’s just becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the country as a whole.”