WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans have no ready explanation for the prevalence of gun violence in America.
Asked Wednesday why mass shootings such as the ones in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, are so much less frequent everywhere else in the world, GOP lawmakers pleaded ignorance.
“I don’t know the answer to that,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).
“I don’t know the answer to that,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).
“I don’t know the cultural underpinnings of that,” added Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “To me, this is something that I think we ought to be definitely concerned with, find what common ground we can look at.”
Congress is under pressure to act after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an Uvalde elementary school, less than two weeks after a different shooter killed 10 people at a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Buffalo.
But before lawmakers address mass shootings, they should probably agree on what is causing the problem. And Republicans are particularly reticent to look at one of the most common explanations: the massive number of guns in the country.
As of 2017, Americans accounted for 4% of the global population, but they owned 46% of the global stock of civilian firearms, according to the Small Arms Survey in 2018. Research suggests the U.S. has more mass shootings and higher rates of gun violence than other wealthy countries.
More than 45,000 people in the U.S. died by firearms in 2020, a 15% increase from the prior year, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Firearm injuries that year became the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, according to an analysis of CDC data by University of Michigan researchers.
Many GOP senators pointed the finger at cultural issues instead. They suggested violence could be due to issues kids deal with, such as mental health struggles or taking medication to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“Kids have changed over the years, the drugs they’re taking for attention deficit just to focus on what they’re doing. It’s mind boggling to me,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), a former college football coach.
When asked why mass shootings are more prevalent in the U.S. than in other countries, Tuberville insisted that that wasn’t necessarily true. “They do have mass shootings,” he said.
One recent study, published in the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, found that the U.S. accounted for 73% of mass shootings in developed countries. The study’s author, Jason Silva of William Paterson University, has also found that the U.S. is the only developed country with a mass shooting every year for the past 20 years.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), meanwhile, wondered at a hearing whether “fatherlessness” and the “breakdown of families” had something to do with mass shootings.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told HuffPost that it’s “sick” for reporters to ask about gun violence in the wake of the latest elementary school massacre and that families should be allowed to grieve.
“You guys ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” Johnson.
But Democrats said that the U.S. doesn’t have some sort of special monopoly on mental health problems. They argued that guns – and specifically the ease of obtaining guns in the U.S., even assault-style weapons – overshadowed any talk of doing more to address mental illness.
“Spare me the bullshit about mental illness. We don’t have any more mental illness than any other country in the world,” a visibly emotional Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told reporters on Tuesday. “You cannot explain this through a prism of mental illness because we don’t we’re not an outlier on mental illness.”
Murphy has tried to convince Republicans to support compromise gun control measures such as expanded background checks following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in his state, where 20 children were killed. Those efforts have largely fallen on deaf ears.
“This only happens in this country and nowhere else. Nowhere else do little kids go to school thinking they might be shot that day,” Murphy lamented.