Violence is endemic to American life. We know this because people are largely inured to it, at least when it happens to other people.
The routine slaughter of young black men over minuscule beefs in Baltimore and Chicago is waved away as some sort of racist myth. Mass killings, meanwhile, happen so frequently that they rarely shock anymore. When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 people at Columbine High School nearly 20 years ago, it stunned the nation. Now, Stephen Paddock murders 58 concertgoers in Las Vegas, and the public and the media quickly move on. Barely a week after the worst mass shooting in America history, Paddock’s atrocity had been relegated to page B-26, next to the legal notices.
The same will probably happen after the church massacre in Texas. (That attack has been described as the “worst massacre at a house of worship in American history.” We have so many mass killings that we break them down by specific location of atrocity.) Unsurprisingly, the U.S. murder rate is much higher than that of other industrialized countries.
People often point to America’s unusually lax gun laws as being solely responsible for the elevated homicide rates. And it’s true that roughly 11,000 Americans are murdered each year by gunshots, according to the CDC. That’s a rate of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 Americans.
The total homicide rate in the U.S., meanwhile, is 5.0 deaths per 100,000, meaning the non-gun homicide rate is 1.5 per 100,000 Americans. And here’s the thing: at 1.5 per 100,000, our murder rate is still higher than many of our peer nations. Sweden’s murder rate is 1.15; Denmark’s is .99; Australia’s, .97; Germany and Greece each have murder rates of .85 per 100,000. Spain comes in it .66, Ireland at .64. Japan’s is an amazing .31 per 100,000.
So even if we removed every gun homicide in America, we would still be significantly more violent than other countries. And in a way, that’s much, much more disturbing than the fiction that America’s violence problem is one of technology, and not of deep societal rot.
By ETHAN EPSTEIN