Gun Violence in America: 2022


Christopher Ebbe, Ph.D.    5-22

ABSTRACT:  Presents some conclusions reached after watching the gun debate in the U.S. for decades.  Neither side is willing to understand the whole problem and compromise.  The root causes are within our society and mass killings are simply a result.  We must change those causes or continue to have these killings.

KEY WORDS:  guns, gun violence, preventing mass shootings

Guns and gun violence are endemic to our U.S. society and will not be rooted out by such efforts as red flag laws and background checks, although these would reduce the numbers of shootings somewhat.  The U.S. has more guns than it has population (which is 330,000,000), and guns are readily available, even to those as young as 18, at an age when we know that good judgment has not yet matured in teens.  On the other hand, there are remarkably few of these mass shootings compared to the numbers of guns and gun users.  We may have 600 such shootings (defined as four or more people being injured or killed in each event) this year, but compared to the perhaps 165,000,000 gun users, this is a very small number.  Of course, we’d like it to be zero, but that is admittedly impossible, because there will always be a few exceptions to any rules and procedures as well as shooters who somehow “fall through the cracks.”  If there are no changes in who can own a gun, it will be true that the more gun owners there are, the more mass shootings there will be (in absolute numbers), since the same kinds of people will be obtaining guns as are obtaining guns now, in the same proportions, and the same percentage of them will use the guns for mass shootings.  It may be true that “shooters, not guns, kill people,” but it is also true that they couldn’t do it without the guns.

Guns were important in the formation of the country, starting with armed resistance to British control and continuing through pushing our frontier all the way across the continent, although even through those times, there were many people in settled areas who never owned a gun.  Many claim that gun “rights” are in our Constitution, thus justifying widespread gun ownership, through an expansive interpretation of that clause in the Bill of Rights (A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”) which implies that gun ownership is most importantly tied to the ability for people to join together in a militia, using with their own guns.  This does not suggest that those guns would be needed to deal with the country’s own government or to protect oneself from other citizens.  (In modern warfare, citizen-soldiers bringing their own guns to the militia action would be almost unthinkable, since personal weapons will not decide any future war.)  


Since citizens with guns will not help us with a disabled power grid or with nuclear missiles coming at us, the current expansive interpretation of this clause of the Constitution as justifying all and any personal guns must envision using those weapons to defend ourselves against each other or to defend ourselves against our own government if it becomes too despotic.  Persons in the citizen militias that have formed in this country believe that they need guns to be able to fight against our own government, but actually a plain reading of the above clause could just as easily be thought to mean that citizen-soldiers would rally to defend the government against internal rebellion, not to aid the rebellion (as happened after our Jan. 6 riot, when the National Guard, which is technically our federal militia, was mobilized). 

We must ask ourselves why so many people continue to have such distrust of our government that it causes them to want to have guns, since those deciding what the people want to collectively accomplish, through our legislative process, are elected by the people, including those same people who distrust the government!  There will always be differences, of course, in what we wish to collectively accomplish, as opposed to taking things on ourselves as individuals.  This distrust is rooted ultimately in our individualistic society, in which it’s every man for himself, and if you can break or bend the law without getting caught, we admire you for it (viz., the laissez faire attitudes toward tax cheating and speeding).  There is a small percentage of the population who view any control by government (taxes, zoning, regulations on business) as too much and talk among themselves about armed rebellion.  Since we expect everyone (including ourselves) to look out for their own welfare and not that of others beyond their families, we expect politicians to do that, too, so while we complain about politicians, they are doing just what we aspire to do ourselves—find ways by hook or crook to gain benefit for themselves.

Aside from the group use of guns to defend the country, guns can be used to defend us from other citizens, usually defined by gun supporters as criminals.  Many people feel more secure having a gun in the home for protection against burglars or other invaders, although there are claims that the number of family members harmed while guns are being used by the family to defend the home is just as great or greater than the number of invaders harmed.  Guns in the home also occasionally end up harming family members in other ways, as when unsecured weapons are picked up by children who harm themselves or others with them, usually inadvertently.

The amount of crime occurring outside the home (shopping, working, etc.) would not seem to justify carrying a gun for personal protection, but occasionally this could turn out to be useful.  With the current fad for open-carry of guns, it does happen occasionally that a citizen with a gun intervenes in a gun situation and reduces the number of lives lost overall, but in well chosen shooting situations such as the Las Vegas concert shooting with a shooter above and at a distance from his targets, those in the audience with hand guns would have had only a very small chance of stopping the carnage.

This gaining of security against other citizens by having a gun raises the question of why we don’t trust our fellow citizens more, similar to the question of why we don’t trust the government more.  The answer would seem again to relate to our emphasis on the individual, with the individual having significant responsibility for protecting himself rather than having trust in police, for instance.  Our almost hysterical defense of our “freedom” means having inevitably less trust in our fellow citizens and in our institutions, since it separates us further from them and we view them as interested only in their own welfare and not in ours.

In a more community oriented society, we would be more concerned about our impact on others morally and not just in terms of “breaking the law,” so axiomatically there would be less violence and less gun violence.

The U.S. holds more people in jail than almost any other country (which we refer to as “mass incarceration”).  Liberals tend to think that this is because we purposely incarcerate minorities in greater numbers, but more likely it reflects the fact that we break our own laws more than people in other countries (which takes us back to the questions of why we have such a great need to defend ourselves, and why we have so little regard for our laws, viewing them as barriers to be broken if we possibly can do so without paying a price ourselves).  It would appear that a large number of us want to obey only those laws that we personally approve of, instead of being willing to abide by all the laws because they were decided on by the citizens overall.

An even more important source of desire for guns is their use to buttress our personal power.  In our complex and highly interdependent society, we naturally feel to some extent powerless, since others can and do influence our lives in ways that we can do nothing about (hitting us unexpectedly with their cars, failing to grow or deliver our food to our food retailers, moving our jobs overseas because it will mean greater profits for them, etc.).  We feel powerful handling a gun, which we like quite apart from any actual security that its use would impart.  This feeling of power helps the gun owner to feel more secure, partly by being available (if it is carried), but partly because it is a signal to others not to offend the user/carrier, and there is no doubt that users/carriers like that.  This would probably be expressed by gun carriers as “being respected,” but in actuality it is about being feared.

Our society has been moving for a while toward people having less control over their own lives (less secure employment given our penchant for outsourcing; depending on processes that we cannot duplicate ourselves like cell phones that we could not make, houses that we could not build, and food that we could not grow), and this has stimulated gun buying, since having a gun helps a person feel that he has at least some control over his future.

Guns can be used for practical purposes, like hunting animals for food or destroying small animals that steal some of a farmer’s crop for their own sustenance.  They can serve for protecting the home and family, if used skillfully.  They are also practical for police to have for protecting the public.  Any other gun ownership is for psychological benefit (security, control, self-esteem).  Almost no one in our country depends on hunting to survive any more.

We glorify the uses of guns in ways that we see as justified (viz., the huge number of movies that are made with stories of revenge or besting “bad guys” by using guns).  We imagine our Old West as an unending shootout, and we root for the “good guys,” wishing we could have been in on the action.  This obviously leads us to see gun use as more OK than if we thought of society as more organized and settled (therefore with less need for gun use for self-protection).

Many young people these days “kill” lots of people via video games.  Those of us who feel hopeful about our lives don’t use this stimulation to think about actually killing others, but people who have no hope for their lives often do start thinking about actually killing others while playing these “games.”.  The bulk of movies these days contain gun violence, portraying the shooter as being justified in shooting because of what others have done to him or his relatives.  Again, most of us keep perspective on this as being a story, but those with grievances against others who do not hope to be heard about these grievances take these justified shootings to heart and ruminate about doing it themselves.


By far the bulk of mass shooters seem to be males who are disaffected—ranging in age from late teens to middle age.  Most are not technically mentally ill.  Just because you think someone “must be crazy” to shoot masses of people does not mean automatically that they are “mentally ill.”  Many are depressed, some of them depressed enough to qualify for a diagnosis of a mental disorder, but only a very few are psychotic or delusional, and depression is itself not a cause of violence.  Most shooters view their shooting as justified by how they have been treated in life.  All of them are very unhappy with their situations and feel alienated from people in general (that they are different from others, not accepted by others, and/or have been treated badly by others).  This isolation from others in their own thoughts makes for a greater chance that they will do something irrational and will not realize that in harming others, they are doing something deeply wrong.  They feel deeply wronged themselves (by their rejection and/or bad treatment) and feel that in shooting they are “evening up the score” rather than striking the first blow.  The venue for this standing up for themselves, in the only way they know how to, will be either the home (against family), the workplace (co-workers, bosses), or schools (kids, teachers, administrators).  Younger shooters usually feel both rejected socially by schoolmates and badly treated in school, by bullying and by the lack of concern for them on the part of teachers and administrators.  They are envious of children who have had it better than they have.

Shooters often view shooting as their only way to be recognized and to be seen as mattering to anyone.  They do not think their lives are worth living as they are and often expect to die as part of their shooting escapades, either at the hands of police or their own hands.  They often have a glorious vision of becoming martyred or famous for their shooting and/or causing those who have rejected or mistreated them to feel sorry for that rejection or mistreatment.  They don’t talk about their grievances with others because they don’t expect others to pay any attention to them but instead to further reject and/or mistreat them.


As noted above, our individualistic society impels us to think at least somewhat selfishly, since we are the ones primarily concerned with our own welfare and safety, and we do not expect that others are looking out for us.  In some other societies, people view themselves as both an individual and as having their reason for being rooted in connections with others so that they think automatically of protecting both themselves and others at the same time and think more of group solutions to problems (like regulating gun possession) rather than just individual solutions, thus making it more likely that gun regulation would be acceptable.  Having a more community-based view also leads to greater trust in others in general (that we “are all in this together”), while in America we are less trusting since we assume that, like ourselves, others are out primarily for themselves.  We may have a greater sense of freedom, but that comes at the price of not being as trusting.


The lifestyles of most of us in the U.S. are dictated by jobs and income.  Some are so attached to their hometowns and home areas that they stay for a lifetime, but many go where the education and the jobs are.  Given that this group change houses and jobs so often, the result is a culture of anonymity for the majority of citizens where even neighbors don’t know each other.  This has the predictable result that there are more gun deaths in cities than in rural areas, since it’s easier to shoot someone you don’t really know than someone you do know.


Our society traditionally offers no training in managing one’s emotions.  We learn a little of emotion management through observing and modeling our parents, but parents never discuss this topic or help children in emotional crises, except to soothe (“It will be OK,” which in many instances is clearly a lie).  We blame teen suicides on external factors, but most would be preventable if parents had established comfortable communications with children.  We blame adolescence itself (“adolescents just won’t talk to parents”), but this is untrue, since the few parents who do establish comfortable communications with children continue to have those communications through adolescence.  The basic problem is our discomfort with emotions in general, since we don’t know how to manage our own, and the solution would be to go through an uncomfortable process of becoming comfortable with our own emotions (which could be done by a determined individual or with guidance from a therapist, pastor, etc.).  Most teen suicides would not take place if the teen could get guidance and support for his/her difficult emotions.  The more ability a person has to deal with and manage his own emotions, the less need he would have to assert his worth through guns.


It is important that we do what we can and that we do not engage in actions that might sound good but will be of little help.  Demonizing guns and gun owners and working toward a gun free society may sound good, and it may work well in some societies, but in our society, with its already established relationship to guns, it is wasted effort.  Since 99 percent of gun owners are never going to shoot anyone, it is unfair and inefficient to try to get all of them to give up their guns. Think of the millions of people who own guns who use them only for hunting, target competition, or occasional vermin eradication.  Conservatives are correct in advocating for focusing on actions related to potential shooters (even if their reasons for this approach may be self-serving).

The few things that are being done currently (background checks for gun purchases, procedures for taking guns temporarily from those deemed by a court to be a danger to themselves or others) do serve to reduce total gun deaths but only by a small amount.

Background checks could be more robust, going further back in time and utilizing more databases.  This would help a little.  Loopholes (gun shows?, private transactions?) where guns are purchased without any background check could be eliminated, but again this would reduce gun deaths by only a few.

If persons could not buy or legally possess a gun until the age of 21 (instead of 18), gun deaths would be reduced, but again only by a little bit.  This would be effective because the brain structures responsible for good judgment are continuing to mature through age 21 (and slightly more), so that teens at 18 are significantly less able to exercise good judgment than people at 21.   (The same argument applies to voting.  People at 21 are, overall, going to exercise more judgment about candidates than they will at 18.)

Gun deaths could be reduced slightly by greater compliance of gun owners with laws regarding storage of guns in the home, which would reduce the incidence of children getting hold of guns.  Having strong laws which punish gun owners whose guns are used to kill another person are also possible.  For instance, a mandatory two years in jail for such owners who had not reported a gun stolen which was later used in a murder.  One “hitch” in this is that a gun that is purchased for self-defense against burglars will not be useful for that purpose if it is locked up in a storage cabinet.

Requiring registration (with police) of all guns would help a little but would not reduce gun use by those who got their guns through illegal sources and who chose not to register.  Some citizens would oppose registration, claiming that it would nullify people effectively having guns to use to keep our government in line, but if citizens participated more intelligently in voting and contributed more to managing local affairs (school boards, etc.), this would keep the government in line even better.

If our society moved toward a more integrated social system and citizens began to think about protecting others just as much as themselves, gun deaths would be reduced, since the shooters in mass shootings would more likely have their unhappy conditions responded to, and the general attitude about guns would shift somewhat away from simply individual considerations.  This, of course, is general cultural evolution, which takes more time than we have if we want to prevent shootings in the near future.

The more insecure people feel, the more people will turn to gun ownership to feel more secure.  Our society has many sources of insecurity, including the individualism mentioned above (we would feel more secure if we thought that others were generally concerned about our welfare) and the anonymity of society (we would feel more secure if we simply had positive relations with more people living near us).  Globalization of business has made everyone feel less secure, since we are aware that our jobs could be done by others around the world being paid less.  The added competition resulting from globalization has been used by businesses as an excuse to reduce or eliminate pension plans for employees and to work employees harder (a less comfortable work environment), which has made workers’ lives harder and less secure. 

The internet, through increasing instant communications, has increased the number of bosses who expect workers to be reachable at all times, thus reducing time-off from work and increasing worker anxiety.  Social media, which might have served to increase support systems for people, has instead made more people anxious, since it is an added arena in which people have to compete for attention and caring as well as defend themselves from criticism and slanders.

Wealth inequality is another source of insecurity, since those who feel that they are lower down in the status hierarchy and in wealth know that they will be the first to suffer in economic downturns and will interpret their lower status and wealth as a judgment by society on their personal worth and what they deserve.

Government could take citizen insecurity into account in all of its decisions, instead of assuming that people will do what is necessary to adjust to whatever conditions are around them (usually determined by whatever is best for those with more money and property).  In fact, there are limits to the amount of insecurity that people will tolerate before they start to lose functioning and/or turn to harming others (both at home and in the community) to alert us to their problems.

One possibility regarding mass shootings would be to do nothing (which is what we usually do), because if 99 percent of gun owners are never going to shoot a person, then there is no need to remove their guns.  If we are going to do essentially (with the exception of the slight changes in the bill ready in July, 2022 for the President’s signature), then we should all consider whether we would be comfortable signing the following statement as our final answer on this issue:

“Since general removal of guns in the U.S. is neither sensible nor feasible, and since we are unwilling to invest millions of dollars per year in ensuring that a sufficient number of counselors trained in dealing with the kinds of people who are likely to shoot people are available across the country, I acknowledge that mass shootings are going to continue in our country at the current rate, and I accept this as the price we must pay for ensuring that citizens’ second amendment rights are not compromised, knowing that this price might include the murder of myself and some of my loved ones.”

Would you sign this?  If not, do you admit that you are unwilling to do anything about the problem if it is going to cost you?

If, however, we are willing to actually deal with the alienated and essentially forgotten people in our society, who are the ones doing most of the shooting, then the biggest and most important change we could make that would have some impact on mass shootings would be to attend to the personal issues of these individuals who feel marginalized or oppressed and who are open to the idea of expressing their pain through violence.  This applies equally to workers (workplace violence) and to students and alumni who could engage in violence in the schools.  This goes against the grain for citizens who see it as totally the individual’s responsibility to deal with everything thrown at him or her (so that if there is no help given to these alienated people, our only other option will be incarcerating them before a crime is actually committed). 

Also, our society’s individualism leads to assuming that people deserve their privacy rather than having their problems revealed, so we avoid offering help or intervening in other ways because it could be taken as insulting or as an invasion of privacy.  We would have to overcome this reluctance in order to offer help, recognize someone’s problems, or simply provide a brief, friendly interaction to someone who seems upset, disorganized, or dysfunctional.  We would all also have to be more willing to accept help, rather than seeing it as pity.  Most of us also fear not knowing how to help, but everyone can be positively disposed toward others and can provide a supportive interaction, no matter how brief  (“How are you doing in this heat?”).  Helping the person to access better sources of help should be possible if we care to know how our communities work.

We will have also to overcome our reluctance to bring to the attention of authority someone who needs help.  We grow up trying not to “snitch” or “tell on” others, in an immature alliance among misbehaving children, but what we are addressing here could be life-or-death situations, which calls for a different sense of ethics.  We are all vulnerable to mass shootings, and it is in the best interest of all of us, adults and children, to head off any possibilities of such shootings.  Everyone should be encouraged to report concerns about people who are alienated and suffering.  Authority (teachers, police, ministers, parents), of course, will have to learn not to overreact and to actually give help rather than simply locking the person up or telling the person in question to “straighten up and fly right” (sometimes because the helper simply doesn’t know what else to do).

What is needed (and what will act to make gun violence less likely) is recognition and acceptance of the potential shooter’s suffering.  Getting the person to express his feelings, listening calmly and accepting that what is being expressed is that person’s reality will start a helping process, whether or not what the sufferer says makes sense and whether or not the listener can understand what is going on inside the person suffering.  If the person trying to help disputes the sufferer’s attributions or tries to say that it isn’t as bad as it seems to the sufferer (“Your mother couldn’t be that bad!”, “Surely the other kids don’t treat you that way all the time!”), it will make violence more likely, because the sufferer will see those comments as simply confirming what he believed all along—that no one was going to understand or try to actually help.  Similarly, comments that urge the sufferer to toughen up (“I know you’re stronger than that;” You can get through this”), excuse the treatment he is receiving (“You know they have their problems, too”), or ignore the treatment he is receiving (“Just don’t pay any attention to them”) will also make violence more likely. 

The person trying to help must simply listen and accept what is being said as the way the sufferer sees things, and then suggest some sources of further help.  Society must be ready to provide that help, in terms of counselors (people able to listen, accept, understand the psychology of what is happening, and provide trustworthy support) in various settings (school, churches, youth clubs, welfare offices, community centers).  Many of these counselors will probably be already in place in their jobs and will spend almost all their time dealing with other sorts of problems, since people who are actually possible shooters are rare, but if we don’t have people appropriately available, ready, and trained in dealing with just this sort of issue when needed, in places where the sufferer is willing to go, then we cannot prevent these shootings.  These counselors must know the laws regarding guns in their areas and must know how to start legal processes that could get guns away from persons who are actually dangerous. Another exciting possibility would be to train selected school peers in listening and the dynamics of despair to be available as a first step toward getting help.

The ultimate goal of this help must be not just to prevent harm, but more importantly (for the potential shooter) to improve his life sufficiently that he is no longer tempted to use violence in response to his feelings.  The attitude of the counselors and ancillary systems (clinics, hospitals, etc.) must be to sincerely care about the person, not just about the person’s violence potential.  A system that has its “procedures” (structured risk assessment, followed by temporary incarceration, followed by discharge with follow-up with a different counselor in two months) with the sufferer being passed from one functionary to another, is not going to prevent violence.

Even if this analysis of potential shooter emotions is accepted, it will be a very large challenge for government, at all levels, to pay for the necessary help, since the shootings in any one town are usually zero or one at the most (but this will be analogous to our usual unwillingness to pay for adequate disaster supplies and preparation before a natural disaster actually happens).  At least this way of understanding the problem eliminates the debate about whether to regulate guns further.  It’s clear what would actually help, but do we have the necessary motivation to do it?

Peterson, Jillian.  The Violence Project:  How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic.  2021 (available on Amazon).