There’s something grimly understated about this article from the NYT on how to survive a mass homicide attack. Apparently, we now have a large enough sample size from these shootings to talk intelligently about predictors of survival:
Research on mass shootings over the last decade has bolstered the idea that people at the scene of an attack have a better chance of survival if they take an active stance rather than waiting to be rescued by the police, who in many cases cannot get there fast enough to prevent the loss of life.
In an analysis of 84 such shooting cases in the United States from 2000 to 2010, for example, researchers at Texas State University found that the average time it took for the police to respond was three minutes.
“But you see that about half the attacks are over before the police get there, even when they arrive quickly,” said J. Pete Blair, director for research of the university’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center.
On the one hand, great, we should know what to do during an attack! It’s nice to know that our natural fight-or-flight response shouldn’t be muffled in a catastrophe. (And I wonder what those poor, poor souls on September 11th, who obediently returned to their desks after being given the all-clear, probably against their better judgment, might have done with this advice). But isn’t it incredibly depressing that we have this newly comprehensive ‘body’ of evidence about the toll of mass homicide? And why, exactly, is it so much easier to talk about the known risk factors that make a person a victim, rather than a perpetrator?
Gun violence is decreasing, fyi. I think that really needs to be said. Murders are at their lowest rate in four decades, as are other forms of violence and sexual assault. Gun ownership is actually decreasing in America, too. People on both sides of the gun debate don’t want to admit this, but people are less interested in guns than they were even a decade ago. 70 percent of Americans don’t own a gun. (I guess that’s probably horrifying if you’re European, but it represents a pretty overlooked decline in gun ownership amidst all the debate. Of course the 30 percent is busily preparing for Armageddon)
And yet… I think the decline is even more of an argument to understand the conditions under which people do go on murderous sprees. We still have far too many firearms deaths – a truly freakish proportion compared to most industrialized nations – and mass homicides seem especially intractable. Frankly, I’m so sick and tired of locking people up and throwing away the key. Why can’t we treat what is wrong with them before they go on these rampages? Why can’t we compile, and publicize, an unimpeachably clear picture of the factors that promote or inhibit gun violence? Why can’t we figure this out?
Here’s a clue: for 15 years, Congress has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control from funding research on the epidemiology of gun violence. Here’s a dictionary definition of epidemiology: “the study of the distribution and determinants of health related states (i.e. death by gun violence) in human populations. That’s right, folks, our Congress, the one with the nine percent approval rating, the one that mocks the use of federal dollars for “wasteful” scientific research on fruit flies (a building block of most of the medical advances anyone’s every heard of), that Congress halted all research on the causes and consequences of gun violence because they were in thrall to a paranoid and reckless gun lobby.