America has always considered itself to be exceptional. However, a new study reveals that may not always be a good thing.
The United States sees more mass shootings than any other country in the world. Although it comprises only five percent of the global population, 31 percent of the world’s mass shootings since 1966 have taken place in the states.
There were 291 documented mass shootings between 1966 and 2012. Even when combined, the next four countries on the list of most shootings- the Philippines, Russia, Yemen and France- did not even come close to the US.
“People have been a little surprised by these statistics,” said study author Adam Lankford of University of Alabama. The study was presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual conference last weekend. It is the first such study to compare statistics of shootings globally.
The study defined a mass shooting as an attack with four or more victims excluding gang killings and attacks that involve multiple family members being killed at once. The US has 90 such incidences, most notably Columbine (1999), the Aurora Cinema (2012), and Sand Hook Elementary School (2012).
Lankford has concluded that a number of factors contribute to America’s disproportionate number of mass shootings. These include a “chronic and widespread gap between American’s expectations for themselves and their actual achievement, Americans’ adulation of fame, and the extent of gun ownership in the United States”.
These issues are exasperated by America’s appalling lack of social safety nets and mental health facilities.
The level of gun ownership Lankford found in America is remarkable. 178 countries were included in the study’s analysis. The US had the highest per-captia gun ownership with 88.8 firearms per 100 people- approximately 270 million firearms. In war torn Yemen, the runner up, had only 54.8 firearms per 100 people. American’s are also 3.6 times more likely than any other country to be armed with multiple weapons at once.
According to the study, “a national survey conducted in 2013 found that 65 percent of Americans believe that the purpose of their right to bear arms remains ‘to make sure that people are able to protect themselves from tyranny’”.
In additional, American mass shootings are far more likely to occur at commercial centers or schools than anywhere else. Other countries see their mass shootings predominantly occur around military institutions.
The American dream is still a powerful institution, inspiring millions within and without America to achieve financial and educational success. Increasingly however, Americans are seeing their attempts at upward mobility thwarted. This frustration creates a psychological strain, which can be perilous for those with weak mental health to begin with.
“As powerful as the drive for material success is a newer American dream — a yearning for fame,” said the study. This preoccupation nudges some towards mass violence.
“Increasingly in America — perhaps more than in any other country on the globe — fame is revered as an end unto itself,” Lankford wrote. “Some mass shooters succumb to terrible delusions of grandeur and seek fame and glory through killing.”
The Columbine High School shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, openly acknowledged their desires for infamy. And indeed their actions have inspired school shootings around the world ever since. A dangerous precedent for other would-be assailants.